Warmer weather gives East’s high streets a welcome boost

With lockdown restrictions easing, shoppers were out in force in Lowestoft town centre on April 12.

With lockdown restrictions easing, shoppers were out in force in Lowestoft town centre on April 12. Picture: Mick Howes - Credit: Mick Howes

Sunny weather has been providing the East of England’s struggling high streets with a much-needed lift as shoppers return in increasing numbers, figures show.

Retail analyst Springboard says footfall is rising week-on-week but is still some way below pre-pandemic levels.

The week of the late May bank holiday from May 30 saw numbers across the region’s shopping destinations shoot up by 14.3% on the previous week – but compared to 2019 overall numbers were still 7.3% down.

The previous week from Saturday, May 23, the region’s footfall was up week-on-week across the piece – but still 22.7% down on 2019.

In the latest week for a regional breakdown from May 23, high streets saw the biggest boost and were up 10.1% week-on-week. However, this was 29.2% lower than in 2019. Retail parks saw a slight dip in weekly footfall of 1.7% and shopper numbers were down 5.5% compared to the 2019 pre-pandemic figure. Shopping centres were still 25.6% down on where they were in 2019 – but saw a 4.4% rise week-on-week.

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In those two weeks East of England footfall was up by 139.3% and 166.8% compared to the same weeks in May 2020 when lockdowns were in place.

Coastal and historic towns particularly benefited from the weather uplift and saw big rises, said Springboard.

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Springboard insights director Diane Wehrle said: “A combination of the late May bank holiday, incredible weather and the school half term holiday had a hugely beneficial effect on customer activity in UK retail destinations last week.

“It not only led to the greatest weekly increase in footfall since the reopening of non-essential retail in April, but also the most modest annual decline since the start of the pandemic.

“Inevitably visitors wanted to be outside to enjoy the weather, so by far the greatest benefit was seen by high streets, where the rise in footfall from the week before was double that in shopping centres, and eight times that in retail parks. 

“Staycations clearly fuelled an increase in footfall in coastal towns which surpassed that in any other type of high street, and a rise in footfall in high streets in the south-west that was nearly double the increase in high streets across the UK and in Greater London. The fact that the bank holiday occurred a week earlier than in the previous two years meant that footfall in both coastal and historic towns was actually higher last week than in the same week in 2019.”

Footfall has strengthened significantly since non-essential retail reopened in April, said Springboard. 

However, it found that further hoped-for gains from the reopening of indoor hospitality in the third week of the month were muted, it admitted.

The gap in footfall from 2019 to 2021 widened over the month from -25.3% in the first week of May to -26.8% by the last week. 

It cited several reasons, including May being the wettest on record, which didn’t help encourage people to eat out. The limitations on dining capacity in indoor venues “inevitably means that the uplift in footfall generated has been limited” it added. The biggest boost to footfall has been after 5pm, when the volume of activity is far lower than during retail trading hours.

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