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Big gap in rate of recovery of region’s high streets

PUBLISHED: 10:35 15 September 2020 | UPDATED: 12:16 15 September 2020

A study shows footfall in Ipswich has recovered more markedly than in Norwich but Norwich had the better consumer spend  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN/BRITTANY WOODMAN

A study shows footfall in Ipswich has recovered more markedly than in Norwich but Norwich had the better consumer spend Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN/BRITTANY WOODMAN

SARAH LUCY BROWN/BRITTANY WOODMAN

Ipswich high street footfall is returning to pre-pandemic activity levels much faster than in Norwich, figures suggest.

Ipswich town centre recovering from lockdown in August   Picture: PAUL GEATERIpswich town centre recovering from lockdown in August Picture: PAUL GEATER

But shopper spending power has recovered more markedly in Norwich than its sister high street in Suffolk, research by the Centre for Cities shows.

The study reveals that average footfall and spend during the last full week of August varied significantly across the eastern region.

Peterborough saw the most marked return to footfall normality with a 79% recovery, followed by Ipswich with 78% – but Norwich and Cambridge footfall lagged behind at 66% and 65% respectively.

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The eastern branch of insolvency and restructuring trade body R3 said the figures showed the challenge facing the region’s high streets as they struggle to revive footfall following the coronavirus lockdown.

Norwich City Centre in the August heat saw a lower footfall recovery than Ipswich  Picture: BRITTANY WOODMANNorwich City Centre in the August heat saw a lower footfall recovery than Ipswich Picture: BRITTANY WOODMAN

The research also found wide variations in recovery rates in shopper spending – which has fallen sharply.

High Street spending in Norwich appears to be closest to full recovery at 88%, while Ipswich shopper spending rose to 79% of its pre-lockdown figure. Peterborough and Cambridge rank at 75% and 69% respectively.

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The high street hit is unsurprising given the number of office staff still working from home.

New R3 Eastern chair Alistair Bacon of AMB Law in Ipswich  Picture: ALISTAIR BACONNew R3 Eastern chair Alistair Bacon of AMB Law in Ipswich Picture: ALISTAIR BACON

The region’s city centres have a low proportion of workers returning to the office, with Ipswich at 29% and Peterborough at 24%, while Norwich and Cambridge have an even smaller share, at 22% and 19%.

R3 Eastern chair Alistair Bacon of AMB Law said the research painted “a very mixed picture” for the region’s cities and highlighted the “enormous challenge” facing centrally-located businesses as they fight to recover post-lockdown.

“This struggle is compounded by the need for city centres to reinvent themselves over the longer term, with footfall impacted heavily by the rise in popularity of online shopping and more people working from home and socialising locally,” he said.

“Government measures such as the Job Retention Scheme, tax payment deferrals and business rates holidays will have helped many city centre businesses in their battle for survival during the pandemic, but more still needs to be done if we are to see a significant recovery.

“Inevitably, there will be some city centre businesses which will continue to struggle and which are, or will be, seriously concerned about their ongoing financial health.

“If your company has significant cashflow difficulties, R3’s advice is not to hold back – talk to a qualified professional as soon as problems arise. Doing so will afford the best chance of recovery and will greatly improve the options for business rescue.”


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