Northern towns recovering faster than cities, research suggests

Centre for Cities
Office hubs in city centres have struggled to bounce back as quickly
// England’s northern towns are witnessing a bigger recovery compared to large city centres
// Huddersfield, Basildon and Birkenhead have enjoyed the strongest spending recoveries
// Localised spending data tracked by Centre for Cities points to a stark divide between towns and cities

New research has found that northern towns including Huddersfield, Blackburn and Middlesborough are leading the high street’s rebound while city centres continue to suffer from a lack of office workers.

Huddersfield, Basildon and Birkenhead have enjoyed the strongest spending recoveries, while London and Manchester are witnessing a slower recovery.

Centre for Cities has recorded a stark divide between towns and cities since non-essential retailers reopened in April.


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In England, Huddersfield, Basildon and Birkenhead have enjoyed the strongest spending rebounds with scores of almost 120, while London, Manchester and Birmingham are among the bottom 10 laggards with readings of between 53 and 73.

A reading of 100 suggests pre-Covid levels.

Google mobility data points to activity around retail and recreation hubs being down by a fifth on pre-Covid levels nationally.

However, the decline is 35 per cent or more in cities such as London, Edinburgh, Nottingham and Glasgow.

“Certainly compared to last year, the bounce back straight after non-essential retail opened was very sharp, particularly in some of those smaller places,” Centre for Cities policy and research director Paul Swinney said.

“Even in a place like central London where spending is still way below where it was, that bounce back has been stronger than the equivalent time when things reopened in 2020.”

Office hubs have struggled to bounce back as quickly, but official guidance advising working from home will be dropped from June 21 if the next stage of the reopening goes ahead.

However, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has cautioned that it was too early to judge whether the final stage of reopening will progress as the Indian variant becomes the dominant strain of Covid-19 in the UK.

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