EDINBURGH Woollen Mill Group - which acquired the former House of Fraser premises in Skipton town centre last year - says it remains confident there is a future for high street shopping despite the Covid-19 crisis.

The company says it is pushing ahead with its plans to refurbish and reopen the landmark former department store with a mix of shops.

The group owns a number of retail brands such Peacocks, Ponden Home, Austin Reed, Viyella, Jaeger, Jacques Vert and Berwin & Berwin. Peacocks is said to be taking a prime location within the former House of Fraser.

A spokesman said: "Understandably the development process has been slowed down by lockdown, but we're pushing ahead. We remain strong believers in the local high street, and the last few months have not changed our commitment or belief in the high street."

The company is yet to announce whether the units will be occupied by other brands from within the EWM stable, or by separate retailers or both.

The separate Edinburgh Woollen Mill outlet which straddles High Street and Sheep Street closed its doors at the end of June although the group says it is looking for another outlet in order to maintain a presence in the town.

The company said it had no intention of closing other EWM stores in the local area, including the outlet in Settle.

Meanwhile, Craven District Council’s Policy Committee has agreed plans to spend £50,000 to support the reopening of towns in the district, as lockdown eases.

Of this, the council will spend £20,000 on business support for retailers, hospitality and tourism businesses, £4,000 towards reopening costs for each town in Craven, and £6,000 on establishing new entertainment and alcohol licences across the district.

The money has been provided by the Government and the European Union as part of the Reopening High Streets Safely Fund.

The plans were agreed as part of the Craven Covid-19 Economic Recovery Plan, which went before the Council’s Policy Committee on June 23.

Councillor Simon Myers, Craven District Council’s Lead Member for Enterprising Craven, said: “It’s vital that the council does everything within its power to support local businesses and the local economy.

“The impact of Covid-19 on the Craven economy is forecast to be dramatic with some estimates placing us as the 16th worst affected economy in the country.

“The largest impact is forecast to be in the tourism sector which in Craven is expected to lose 30 per cent of its output in 2020/21, and if this occurs the consequences will be felt for many years.

“However, there are a number of steps that we can take to support local businesses and the Craven economy and we have already taken a range of actions, including the pedestrianisation of Skipton High Street on market days with Skipton Town Council and North Yorkshire County Council, providing grant funding to businesses, delivering advice and support, and working with Richmondshire and the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority on future tourism development plans.

“We know there is a great deal to do and we will be working with the York and North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership on the economic recovery, aiming to create something that is stronger and more resilient than before the pandemic – following the principle of ‘Greener, Fairer, Stronger’."

The Council is also planning to set up a sub-committee to oversee the recovery plan and a further report on this will be brought back to the next Policy Committee meeting.

Liz Smailes, Skipton Business Improvement District marketing and communications officer, said: "As Skipton retail businesses reopen their doors over the coming weeks and months while lockdown restrictions are gently relaxed, we are going to see changes locally that mirror the situation across the country. Unfortunately there is no overnight solution to provide answers as quickly as the pandemic arose. It is going to be a slow process.

"During the lockdown we have been making improvements to the Welcome To Skipton website, ensuring it is a responsive design for viewing on mobile devices. This will allow for Skipton businesses to have a presence on a central consumer-facing web listing, making them easy to find. The website design - www.welcometoskipton.com - has just gone live and we are now updating it with all the correct business information and opening hours.

"Over the coming weeks and months, together with the local authorities, we are analysing how business and a changed consumer behaviour unfolds in Skipton, along with national trends, so that we can work collectively to address issues and work towards long term town centre improvements.

"We commend our local businesses that have been able to adapt their operations quickly from the onset of Covid-19, and thereby survived the challenging recent months. For a handful of Skipton businesses, the situation has enabled them to accelerate previous plans to integrate digital technology into their operations, others have seen a niche or experienced increased local customer demand and expanded their premises to accommodate their improved business.

"Sadly not all businesses will be reopening for a number of reasons, either out of choice or due to business collapse. While the nation remains in a 'stay alert' phase, and lockdown restrictions are in place, consumer confidence will require a lot of reassurance to bring people back into the centre of towns.

"As such, it is too soon to give answers on how consumer behaviour changes will take effect in the long term, but what Covid-19 has highlighted to communities around the world is the importance of supporting the local economy, the convenience and caring value of a healthy high street and how local businesses can work better together to support each other."