Updated Jan 26, 2022

State of UK high streets highlighted in new research

Research conducted by Think tank Centre for Cities, "Cities Outlook 2022", has highlighted trends across high street sales, some of which are surprising.

The research shows that some city and town centres including Central London, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Cardiff have lost nearly a years' worth of high street sales over the past two years, however not every area has been affected in the same way.

The report also found that more than 2,400 city and town centre units have become vacant so far during the pandemic.

Five surprising trends that the research highlighted were:

  • people switched to online, with 40% of all spending done online in January 2021, but in most cities, this shift to online stalled when shops began to open up again and by September 2021 spending in stores had for the most part bounced back;
  • the hardest hit casualty of the high street has been fashion which shows no signs of returning to pre-pandemic levels. Although 37 weeks of sales were lost on average for pubs, restaurants, cafés and other food and drink outlets across all city and large town centres, this returned to normal;
  • the suburbs are not experiencing a boost at the expense of the city centre after many are working from home. With the exception of the retail sector, there are no real differences between cities and suburbs when it comes to sales recovery for sectors like fashion and hospitality;
  • during the pandemic, high streets in weaker cities and towns lost the fewest weeks of sales;
  • returning to normal may not be possible, with too much uncertainty for working patterns and new variants.

Andrew Carter, Chief Executive of Centre for Cities, said:

"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."

"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."