Throughout this pandemic we have been making assumptions about how life would change and chief amongst those has been the view that in the post pandemic era activity would move away from city centres and out to smaller towns and local neighbourhoods.

City centres would struggle to recover fully from the battering they have taken and broadly the bigger the city the greater the long-term damage would be.

With the re-opening of non-essential shops and hospitality we will soon be able to assess some of those assumptions against hard evidence.

Having spent Saturday afternoon in Glasgow city centre my first impressions were encouraging. To quote one Chamber retail member, the ‘town was very busy and the city centre was buzzing’. Small queues gathered outside several shops and one or two beer gardens were especially popular. The young were out in large numbers.

Standing high on the steps of the Royal Concert Hall the view down Buchanan Street looked broadly similar to an average Saturday afternoon. Once I was down into the shopping area it was perfectly feasible to keep a safe distance.

The City Council has delivered on two of the promises that were made at Glasgow’s City Centre Taskforce in the weeks leading up to lockdown restrictions being lifted. Extra efforts were made to clean the streets, remove the graffiti and avoid bins regularly overflowing.

Some of the red and white barriers used to expand pavement space which made the centre look as if it was overrun with roadworks have been removed or replaced with more thoughtfully designed planters. There is a lot more to be done but a good start made.

Equally the Council has shown flexibility in allowing hospitality businesses to spill out on to pavements where it is safe to do so. Social distancing requirements make it very difficult for bars and restaurants to balance the books within normal indoor trading footprints so allowing businesses to use outside space is a genuine sign that the Council is aiming to help bring the city centre back to life. The weather has turned against us so far this week but the weekend showed what is possible.

Wander a little away from the core shopping streets and the pandemic’s impact becomes more obvious. The recent British Retail Consortium figures from the Local Data Company show that one in seven shop units are now empty across the UK. In Scotland the Scottish Retail Consortium reported that in the first quarter of 2021 shop unit vacancies rose above 15% for the first time. It is not difficult to see the evidence in Glasgow.

That is why the Glasgow Chamber will be working with the Council and with the city’s property industry to explore all options for filling those vacancies. It is again a common assumption that city centres will have to move property away from retail towards different uses with conversion into housing often being the easy suggestion.

The City Council has a stated aim to double the residential population inside the city centre so the local policy ground is already being prepared.

But we also have work to do persuading national politicians just how important our city centres will be to economic recovery.

To that end Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow Chambers of Commerce, the Glasgow School of Art, the prominent legal practice Brodies and accountancy firm Anderson, Anderson and Brown have combined to commission a report into the role cities and their centres will play in our economy and the national policies needed to help them recover quickly.

Initial evidence from the weekend suggests it will be worth the effort.

Stuart Patrick is chief executive of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce