LOCKDOWN measures brought into control the coronavirus outbreak have “accelerated” a decline in Bournemouth town centre, according to business leaders.

Speaking at Monday’s meeting of BCP Council’s scrutiny board, Business Improvement District (Bid) chairman Martin Davies said the last few months had been "difficult".

And he said it was now time to look at the longer-term future for high streets and the potential for their focus to shift more towards having a greater residential presence .

Business leaders from across Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole provided updates on issues affecting businesses and wider high street or town centre areas at Monday's meeting.

Martin Davies, the chairman of Bournemouth Town Centre Bid said lockdown measures had made recent months a struggle and that a “gradual decline” in the town had become “more rapid”.

“It would be a mistake to think that Covid-19 has changed for all time the future of the town centre but it’s probably accelerated a process that was already happening,” he said.

“The issues with the town centre have been there for several years or more and we’ve rehearsed them over time.

“Covid has thrown all of that into focus, it’s really accelerated the economic pressure on businesses.”

But he added there was now an opportunity to “react” and look at how the town centre is changed in the future and whether it becomes less centred on retail and more focussed on being residential.

“We have got a fabulous opportunity to take what is a great place and make it better,” he added.

Chief operating officer, Paul Kinvig, said the last few months had been an “absolute watershed” for businesses and said a number of measures had been taken and were due to be implemented to support them.

He said the main focus was now to make shoppers feel “safe and secure” by tackling long-term anti-social behaviour issues in the area and by working to reduce the risk of the coronavirus.

But he also urged the council to be "as flexible, nimble and innovative" as possible in its planning policy and said allowing increased development could make businesses, and the town centre as a whole, more economically viable.

Speaking on Wednesday, council leader Vikki Slade supported this position.

"What we need to do with our town centres is rethink them," she said. "They need to be about shopping but we need to put people living in there, we need to have more entertainment.

"We need to rethink our town centres and that work is ongoing."

She described the closure of Beales in March as "huge" but said there had been "interest" in its building.