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We have today updated our High Streets Recovery Tracker, in association with Nationwide Building Society. New data shows city centre recovery up until the end of August and how it varies across the country. Three key findings are summarised below.
Since the beginning of August, city centre footfall in the UK’s 63 largest city centres has increased by seven percentage points and now reaches 63 per cent of pre-lockdown levels.
However, this figure hides great geographic differences: in 14 city centres, footfall in August exceeded pre-lockdown levels; particularly in seaside towns and smaller cities. At the other end of the spectrum, large cities like Manchester and Birmingham have barely recovered half of their pre-lockdown levels of activity (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Where has overall city centre visitor footfall recovered the most?
The table above shows that London, with a 31 per cent recovery in overall footfall, stands far below other large cities in the UK such as Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham or Cardiff. This is actually the result of a trend which started earlier in the summer (Figure 2). Until mid-June, London and other large cities followed a similar trajectory – both in their initial fall in footfall and then their early recoveries. However, their paths started to diverge when lockdown eased and non-essential retail reopened on 15 June.
While in large cities the jump in footfall around that time was similar to small and medium-sized cities (although much lower in absolute numbers), in London the boost was much smaller and footfall remained much flatter throughout the summer.
Figure 2: Footfall recovery by city size
Despite the Government’s attempts to convince office workers they should leave home to commute to work again, the latest data shows no increase in the share of people returning to their place of work. Averaged across all largest city centres in the UK, weekday worker footfall is still at 17 per cent of pre-lockdown levels and has remained the same since the end of June.
Furthering the trend that had already been identified throughout the summer, this is particularly true in the UK’s largest and most successful city centres – such as London, Birmingham, Manchester and Cardiff – which remain below the city average.
Conversely, the recovery has been stronger in smaller cities and towns, where worker footfall is now at 27 per cent of what it was in February. While in some places it is much higher – Mansfield reaches 42 per cent workers recovery – nowhere has yet reached even half of pre-lockdown levels (Figure 3).
Figure 3: Where are people back in the office?
Despite having relatively similar shares of workers back in the office, the overall recovery score averaged across large cities is still twice as high as London’s. This suggests that London’s economy is even more reliant on office workers than other large cities. Consequently other cities, including large ones, may have been more able to attract people for weekend shopping, and may have had a bigger boost from the Eat Out to Help Out scheme on weeknights than central London.
However, support for people working in retail and hospitality and efforts to maintain a sustained increase in city centre footfall must not be limited to London. Many of the places that have had big increases in footfall this summer are seaside and tourist towns benefiting from the good weather and difficulties travelling abroad. Their footfall is also likely to fall this autumn as domestic tourism declines.
Additionally, the persistently low number of workers going back into the office is worrying for all city centres, and reinforces the concerns for the future of shops, cafes, restaurants and bars that depend on them for custom. So, unless we see a big increase in people returning to the office, the Chancellor will need to set out how he will support the people working in retail and hospitality who could soon find themselves out of a job.
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