Wigan shoppers staying loyal to local high street

Visitors are continuing to shun the North West’s big cities in favour of smaller urban centres like Wigan, data reveals.

Friday, 1st January 2021, 7:00 am
Shoppers in Wigan town centre

Numbers analysed by the insolvency and restructuring trade body R3 showed that Wigan performed far better than Manchester or Liverpool in terms of wooing back customers and spending just after the second national lockdown ended.

Overall footfall for the first full week in December was at 67 per cent of pre-pandemic levels and spending at 51 per cent of previous levels during the week.

Within the North West, Wigan’s overall performance was beaten only by Burnley, Birkenhead and Warrington – with the latter two having the advantage of being in Tier 2 with bars and restaurants allowed to open.

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Allan Cadman

The figures from the Centre for Cities analysed the UK’s largest regional centres, including nine in the North West. They show that Manchester, which is in Tier 3, has been amongst the five worst affected centres in the UK, with overall footfall at just 30 per cent of pre-pandemic levels and consumer spending at just 20 per cent of previous levels.

Liverpool, which is in Tier 2, fared somewhat better with footfall at 48 per cent and spending at 39 per cent of previous levels.

However, both were outperformed by the smaller regional centres.

Allan Cadman, North West chair of R3 and a partner at Poppleton & Appleby, said: “The figures emphasise the pattern which was set during the first lockdown and continued during the summer. Workers and visitors appear to be remaining at home and supporting their local centres in the commuter belt.

“There is a perception that bigger cities are more prone to the virus, and a reluctance to use public transport. And for the Tier 3 locations like Manchester, there is the added challenge that, with bars and restaurants closed, there is limited reason to visit.

“However, it seems that the lost trade from the cities may be benefiting the smaller centres like Wigan, some of which have struggled in the past. It could offer fresh opportunities for these locations to reinvent themselves and rebuild their economies.”

The figures show 22 per cent of Wigan workers had returned to the town centre during the week, one of the highest proportions in the region, while weekend visitor numbers were at 74 per cent of previous levels and night-time visitors at 33 per cent of where they were before.

Mr Cadman predicted that the Christmas rush may have been more subdued this year.

“Online retail has also severely affected the high street. The retail landscape will look different as we enter 2021. Flexibility from all stakeholders will be key to any recovery,” he said.

“Long term, working from home - at least partially - is expected to become the new norm, hence there will be less need for office space and downward pressure on rents.”

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