UK city centres that have suffered the least from COVID-19 face the toughest long-term challenges

Based on the Centre for Cities city centre recovery tracker (through the use of mobile phone data), this short article compares how cities of different sizes have recovered at different rates from the Covid-19 pandemic. It finds larger city centres have experienced the steepest decline in activity during the crisis, although they are potentially better positioned than smaller centres from the outset to transform in the longer-term.

Date added 19 October 2021
Last updated 19 October 2021

Whilst all places have been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, this short summary article identifies how cities of varying sizes have recovered at different rates during the crisis. Based on anonymised mobile data from the Centre for Cities, the author explains how larger cities, such as London, have witnessed a steeper decline in activity during the pandemic, and been slower to recover than small and medium-sized centres when restrictions have been eased. For instance, at the end of August, before the ‘second wave’ in the UK hit, smaller cities had reached 90% recovery levels, whilst London was at just 30%. The article suggests this is to some extent due to shifting working patterns, noting how cities of varying sizes have different proportions of office-based workers who have been able to work from home during the pandemic, with larger cities like London experiencing a greater concentration. However, the article concludes by arguing that, whilst larger city centres may have seen the steepest drop in activity during the pandemic, they are potentially better placed to eventually recover; whilst smaller centres that had already been experiencing challenges prior to the crisis, will still have to address these pre-Covid issues in order to transform in the longer term.

For the Centre for Cities high streets recovery tracker, please see here [link to external site]