Businesses in city and large town centres have lost more than a third (35%) of their potential takings due to COVID-19, think tank finds.
The Centre for Cities’ annual economic assessment of the UK’s largest urban areas has revealed that across the 52 city and town centres studied, 2,426 commercial units have become vacant during the pandemic, against 1,374 between 2018 and 2020.
Central London, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Cardiff have all lost nearly a years’ worth of sales because of the pandemic, according to Cities Outlook 2022.
In Oxford and Newcastle city centres the number of empty storefronts increased by around 8% as sales fell. Burnley’s city centre lost the fewest weeks of sales (eight weeks) during the pandemic, followed by Warrington and Huddersfield.
High streets in economically weaker places have been less impacted by COVID-19, according to the Centre for Cities.
In the years before it hit, store vacancy rates in the centres of places such as Newport, Sunderland and Blackpool increased by around 3.6%. Since 2020, this has fallen to 2.5%.
In economically stronger places, business closures increased by 3.5% during the pandemic – up from 1.4% in the two years before.
The think tank concluded that this shows the Government’s COVID-19 support helped struggling high streets but was less effective in economically stronger places due to higher rents and a lack of custom from office workers.
Andrew Carter, chief executive of Centre for Cities, warned that while the prosperous areas will recover quickly, COVID-19 support may just have temporarily stalled the decline of high streets in economically weaker places.
‘While the pandemic has been a tough time for all high streets it has levelled down our more prosperous cities and towns. Despite this, the strength of their wider local economies means they are well placed to recover quickly from the past two years,’ he said.
‘The bigger concern is for economically weaker places – primarily in the North and Midlands – where Covid-19 has actually paused their long-term decline. To help them avoid a wave of high street closures this year the Government must set out how it plans to increase peoples’ skills and pay to give them the income needed to sustain a thriving high street. Many of these places are in the so-called Red Wall so there is a political imperative for the Government to act fast, as well as an economic one.’
Improving transport links between towns and cities is key to the post-COVID recovery and could save the UK’s ailing high streets, local leaders argued yesterday.