“Steady return” to high streets say Sector Leaders

Published 22 July 2020
Last updated 22 July 2020

With retail and hospitality now reopening on England’s high streets, the evidence is of a steady return of consumers.

This is reflected in high street footfall across the UK, which last week saw a small climb to its highest level since lockdown began. The rate for the week was down 47.9% on the same period in 2019 according to Springboard. There are significant variations in this overall figure, including between regions and town types.

The insight on the return to the high street comes from the July HSTF Sector Leaders Group meeting. These are Chief Executives or policy leads of sector-support organisations with between them hundreds of thousands of members working or investing in our high streets.

These members work together to deliver the offer in town centres, as landlords and tenants, as service providers, and as contributors to the diversity that makes a centre vital and viable. The Sector Leaders Group provides a focus for this engagement at a national level across sectors and with the Task Force and government.

Over the last four months, the Group has focused on the safe reopening of activity on high streets, identifying support and guidance needed from government, sharing strategic and operational challenges and providing insight into their individual sector requirements and responses.

The data shared this week shows an uneven return to high streets, with, on the whole, smaller centres seeing a stronger performance in terms of usage than the larger city centres. Various factors influence this: larger centres rely more on office workers, students, business travel, international visitors, and a strong culture and entertainment offer that are yet to return, and many people are still reluctant to travel on public transport. Perhaps not surprisingly given the time of year, Holiday towns are proving attractive destinations, with footfall recovering more quickly.

An adverse impact on trading from the introduction of temporary road changes in some high streets was raised at the meeting. This was particularly evident where limited consultation had taken place. Government guidance on the Reopening High Streets Safely fund is clear that the purpose of temporary works is that “these changes can help improve consumer confidence and increase, safely, the number of active consumers”. Working with businesses to make this effective is recommended.

The meeting heard that only about half of hospitality businesses have reopened in the last few weeks but this is expected to grow over the summer and other sectors will be reopening. The Task Force continues to monitor change in high streets and publishes monthly updates.

The HSTF Sector Leaders Group membership is as follows:

Association of Convenience Stores

Association of Town and City Management

British Beer & Pub Association

British BIDs

British Independent Retailers Association

British Property Federation

British Retail Consortium

Federation of Small Businesses

Institute of Place Management

Libraries Connected

Local Government Association

National Association of British Market Authorities

National Market Traders Federation


Society of Local Authority Chief Executives

The BID Foundation

UK Active

UK Cinema Association

UK Hospitality