City centres see boost as footfall bounces back after rail strikes

Christmas comes early for high street retailers amid fears of stock shortages

Footfall bounced back strongly last week as workers returned to offices after several days of rail strikes, in the latest sign of a recovery for Britain’s city centres.

A central London “back to the office” benchmark by Springboard, which tracks activity at office hotspots, shows that footfall rose by 36.4 per cent in the seven days to February 11, compared with the same week last year, although it is still 19.5 per cent lower than pre-pandemic levels.

Week-on-week footfall in London was up by 5 per cent as workers returned after strikes on February 1 and 3, which disrupted commuter rail services, including Thameslink, Southeastern and Southern. Cities in the regions also benefited, with annual footfall up by 19 per cent.

Diane Wehrle, insights director at MRI Springboard, said: “Last week was clearly a week when consumers returned to high streets following train strikes in the week before last.”

She said that on an annual basis, “by far the greatest recovery in footfall from 2022 occurred in large city centres, most probably driven by employees returning to their offices, whilst there were far more modest year-on- year increases in smaller high streets”.

Town centres have taken a battering in the past few years as a result of the pandemic and more recently the cost of living crunch, with many shops and services forced to close during lockdowns and growing numbers of stores going out of business as a result of the pandemic.

Hybrid working has been hard-wired into the lives of millions of people, who seem in no hurry to return to the office.

However, Richard Lim, a retail analyst, said the latest footfall figures highlighted that workers were being “encouraged to get back into the office at least two or three times a week”.

“What we’re seeing in terms of the long-term, hybrid working structural change in the labour market is that people are tending to get back to the office more so than we have seen in the last couple of years,” he said.

“Hybrid working is here to stay and the implications of that is that it will change the city centre landscape.”