East's fragile high street recovery takes weather hit

Tavern Street in Ipswich in February, during the third national lockdown. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Weather appears to have played a part in a dip in already much-reduced footfall across East of England towns at the start of March Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Poor weather probably played a part in a 6.2% week-on-week decline in high street footfall across the East of England as parents prepared their children for a return to school, say experts.

Retail analyst Springboard said the region — along with the Midlands and north of England — saw the most severe falls in high street essential shopper numbers, with the decline much more pronounced than the average 3.3% week-on-week across the UK in the first week of March.

A 1% rise in shopper numbers in the east’s retail parks and shopping centres over the same week was probably down to parents shopping for school clothing and in large food stores as they prepared for the opening up of schools as the UK eases out of lockdown, it said.

Overall, footfall declined across all of the east’s retail destinations by 2.7% week-on-week, compared to the national average of 0.7%. It was the first time in a month and a half that weekly shopper numbers fell rather than rose, after a series of steady upticks as lockdown fatigue and other factors lured more people to shop — despite the heavy lockdown restrictions and the ongoing closure of non-essential stores.

Year-on-year, east towns saw shopper numbers down by 58.7% compared to 57.9% nationally. Year-on-year, the region’s high streets suffered a 61.8% fall, retail parks were down by 40.6% and shopping centres were worst hit with a 69.3% decrease.

Central London saw a 10.9% week-on-week fall, and an 8.7% drop in outer London.

From Wednesday, footfall declined noticeably as the weather worsened across the UK.

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Springboard insights director Diane Wehrle said: “For the first time in seven weeks footfall in UK retail destinations declined from the week before. However, the drop was a marginal one, and was driven wholly by high streets, while activity in both retail parks and shopping centres continued to increase. 

“Visits to retail parks increased by three times as much as in shopping centres, which may well have been a result of parents shopping for school clothing and items in large food
stores in the run up to the return to the classroom.

“While the ongoing Lockdown is the major influencer in shopping activity levels, weather still plays a part. Footfall in all three destinations types rose significantly over the first three days of the week, but declined from Wednesday onwards when the weather worsened in the second half of the week.”