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From next week non-essential shops will be able to reopen in the UK. They will open their doors to a very different world to the one they last traded in. Our new high street recovery tracker uses mobile phone data to track footfall in Britain’s 62 largest cities and towns and reveals just how different these two worlds are.
All cities have seen a sharp drop in levels of activity since entering the lockdown and have clearly not yet recovered. Across all city centres, average footfall is at 22 per cent of pre-lockdown levels.
But that average hides significant variations between places. Britain’s largest cities, as well as those that had the strongest high streets before the lockdown, have seen some of the largest drop offs in footfall. While London, Birmingham, Manchester and Oxford have recovered less than 20 per cent of their previous footfall. Cities such as Aldershot, Southend or Basildon activity is around half of what it was pre-lockdown (see table below).
|Rank||City||Top 10 Overall recovery index||Rank||City||Bottom 10 Overall recovery index|
Source: High Streets Recovery Tracker.
What was a real strength of successful cities before lockdown – their ability to pull people in from far and wide – has now become their Achilles heel in lockdown. As the chart below shows, those places best able to pull people in from beyond their city boundaries are the ones that are also furthest away from a full recovery.
Those previously-successful city centres have a big short-term challenge on their hands – will those visitors and workers that previously flocked to them be both willing and/or able to visit once again? If the answer to this is no then this is bad news for the existing shops, cafés and restaurants that are dependent on their custom, and they will need some short term support.
But in the longer term we know that these city centres have many things going for them, such as high-paid jobs and large resident populations which in turn helped to make their high streets vibrant. In larger and more successful cities, workers in high-skilled exporting jobs who are likely to still be working from home now will probably eventually go back into their city centres and spend their money on local services. When tourism returns, there is little doubt that Oxford, Cambridge or York’s visitors will recreate a market for local businesses and help their high street thrive again.
That less successful places have not seen quite so extreme falls is positive news for their businesses as they look to reopen. But the fundamental reasons for their pre-lockdown struggles have not changed. While a return to ‘normality’ may happen more quickly, it will still require a large, concerted effort from central and local government to turn these city centres around, especially if these places suffer more from the economic hardship which results from the crisis.
More detail can be found on the tracker, which cuts the data according to various aspects of city centre life: workers, weekend visitors, night-time. It will be updated on a monthly basis, plotting the speed of the recovery across city centres, so keep an eye on this space.
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