Among all the positive stories this week is one which is clearly a negative sign of the times.

Basingstoke Leisure Park had looked set for a positive future of leisure and retail.

Had the NewRiver deal gone ahead, it would have been an amazing place, hosting all sorts of activities, not just for the young. The site, which has the excellent Milestones Museum, a cinema, an ice rink, food venues and more, is already a plus for the town.

With the addition of a designer outlet village and more modern leisure, for once, the much-used expression ‘something for everyone’ would seem to be quite accurate.

But the retail decline and Covid have conspired to turn this ambitious plan into a pipedream.

But perhaps the alternative could be even better. A designer outlet village doesn’t suit everyone’s pocket. But, if retail is still a possibility, perhaps inspiration could be drawn from Oxford’s indoor market and the modern style of small units for artisan independents such as at boxparks.

But whatever the council decides would work, the issue of Covid could still clip the wings of its ambitions. The threat of further restrictions and lockdowns could end up being a weight on the shoulders of anyone wishing to be a part of something exciting.

Many of our town centre regenerations are formed around the desire for independent retail and the need for places to be distinctive. If the dark cloud of restrictions hangs over entrepreneurial people who might provide this, then uncertainty will be the underlying theme of our future and ambitious projects will be less likely.

Shutting down every year can only be a bad thing for business. But a sensible balance of all the risks we face could allow a much brighter future.

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