Big cities’ high street recovery hampered by ‘working from home’ effect

Smaller town across the North West are showing earlier signs of high street recovery than their big city counterparts.

Independent think tank Centre For Cities has produced UK-wide data showing how cities and larger towns are recovering from the coronavirus lockdown.

Using anonymised mobile phone data, it shows how quickly high streets are returning to their previous levels of activity.

And it shows that big cities, which are usually teeming with office workers, are suffering from the fact that many staff are still working from home.

The latest information, to June 30, shows there are three North West towns in the UK top 10 for high street activity.

Burnley is equal second with Southend, behind top-placed Basildon.

In sixth spot is Blackburn, while Birkenhead is placed in eighth spot.

However, the region’s two biggest centres both feature in the bottom 10 listing, with Manchester and Liverpool jointly sixth off the bottom place, occupied by Edinburgh.

Centre for Cities said: “The first output of the high street recovery tracker illustrated that it is particularly strong city centres which are facing a slow recovery of their high streets.

“This is mainly due to office workers still working from home.

“The places where they shop or get their lunch, the after-work pubs, all remain empty.

“The problem is more severe for stronger city centres as office space is more central to their city centre economy.

“For these cities, the main challenge is around getting workers back and is at this point, out of their control.

“National-led schemes such as a temporary VAT cut or time-limited vouchers to spend locally can be possibilities to boost demand.”

Laurence O’Connor, chair of Burnley BID, said: “It is positive and welcome news that so far, Burnley’s high street is recovering well from lockdown.
“The businesses in our town have proven innovative and resilient during this time and it’s great to see locals supporting the town.

“We saw when the non-essential shops reopened on the 15th June just how busy the town centre was, with people respecting the social distancing measures in place.”

He added: “Now many of our bars, restaurants, pubs and other retail are reopening, we hope the recovery continues and that people feel safe being in a town of Burnley’s size.

“With the fantastic variety of independent and big-name retail, early evening economy and nightlife, people can stay local when easing back into the post-lockdown ‘new normal’.”