High Streets Initiative · 10 April 2017

The worst affected high streets in Britain

Newcastle
In Newcastle’s city centre, footfall fell by ten per cent in 2015

Depreciating footfall continues to damage town and city centre shops across the UK, but which are the worst affected high streets of all?

Shopping has long been considered one of the UK’s national pastimes. High streets, shopping centres and retail parks have been places people enjoy spending leisure time, acting as hubs of social activity as well as somewhere to splash one’s cash.

However, a dramatic drop in footfall in recent years, particularly on worst affected high streets in town and city centres, has left retail sector decision makers perplexed.

In 2016, industry analysis from Ipsos Retail Perfomance reported declines in shopper footfall of as much as ten per cent on high streets in some parts of the UK.

There are a multitude of factors affecting the high street’s current rate of decline. The rise of ecommerce has played a significant part, with 2017’s much-anticipated business rates revaluation and uncertain conditions associated with Brexit set to exacerbate things more.

But of equal importance may be the fact consumers are simply altering their shopping habits and choosing to spend their income differently. Ipsos retail analyst Tim Denison said: “Any spare money has gone on leisure and holidays, rather than pure retail spend.

“A lot of people have had more disposable income, but retailers have not been as successful as they should have been at taking their share.”

Whatever the reasons, some areas of Britain have been more greatly impacted by falling high street footfall in the last few years than others. Business Advice has provided a clearer picture by identifying some of the worst affected high streets.

Newcastle

Statistically, Newcastle proved to have the UK’s worst affected high streets district last year, with shopper footfall dropping by ten per cent since 2015.

Both local business owners and shoppers have blamed extortionate parking charges for the lack of customers. Last year, Magdalena Jermakow, a beauty salon owner in the city, told local newspaper The Sentinel about the number of shops having to close because of a lack of affordable parking.

“It’s very hard to sustain a business in the centre. The high parking charges stop people coming into town and the parking situation is bad for everyone,” Jermakow said.

Newcastle’s parking problems may have proved the final nail in the coffin for its city centre shop owners. A disproportionate number of out-of-town retail parks in the region have attracted hordes of shoppers, whilst the North East of England generally continues to experience the worst unemployment rates in Britain, reducing the number of people with disposable income to spend on the high street.

Stoke

Stoke
Hanley high street is one of the worst affected in Stoke

Although not quite as steep as in Newcastle, the 8.1 per cent drop in footfall experienced by retailers on high streets in the Stoke area, in just one year in 2016, puts this part of the West Midlands among the worst affected high streets of the UK in terms of its in-store retail figures.

Vacancy rates of commercial premises in Stoke have become some of the highest in the UK, totalling 25 per cent of all available retail units, in certain areas, in 2016.

Relatively good infrastructure, connecting Stoke to other major towns and cities, in the West Midlands and beyond, may have seen more shoppers travel out of town in recent years, and the region’s growing number of retail parks continue to encourage people away from the high street.

Another current inhibitor to high street footfall is the considerable regeneration underway in many parts of Stoke-On-Trent, putting the area in a period of transition in terms of its retail health. Matthew Hopkinson, director at the Local Data Company, has described the city as a big industrial area that now needs to readjust to its new environment.”

Dudley

Close to Birmingham, Dudley was a hotbed of economic activity at the start of Britain’s industrial revolution in the nineteenth century, but now this West Midlands town has a shop vacancy rate of 20 per cent last year, making it UK town with the most vacant retail units.

Many towns in the area continue to suffer from high vacancy rates, but while neighbouring West Bromwich saw its vacancy figures improve since 2015, Dudley’s remained the same, with no change to the number of new retail business launches in 2016.

Grimsby

Grimsby
Dilapidated shop fronts in Grimsby

The large Lincolnshire seaside town of Grimsby has, for centuries, been one of Britain’s most important food manufacturing centres, but the town has battled with economic decline in recent decades.

It’s town centre now has one of the worst affected high streets for shop closures of anywhere in the country, with more than a fifth of its high street stores having closed by 2016.

Bolton

With one in four retail units in Bolton’s town centre lying unused last year, the town has a vacancy rate ten per cent higher than elsewhere in the North West of England, and one which is double that of the English average.

Shoppers have been deterred from the abundance of betting shops and discount stores that have sprung up in the town, and many independent business owners have moved to popular local markets outside the town centre.

The Tory leader on the local council, David Greenhalgh, recently stated that: “Bolton also once prided itself in its host of independent retailers, which have now been all but lost.”

Please take two minutes to complete our quick High Streets Initiative survey and have your say on the outlook for independent and smaller retailers.

Want to learn more about the challenges and opportunities facing small independent retailers on Britain’s high street? Read more from our campaign. 

This article is part of a wider campaign called the High Streets Initiative, a new section of Business Advice championing independent and small retailers by identifying the issues that put Britain’s high streets under pressure. Visit our High Streets Initiative section to find out more.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Fred Heritage is deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and international relations from the University of Kent and an MA in international conflict from Kings College London. He previously worked as a reporter at Global Trade Review magazine.

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