Bouncing back after the pandemic - can the high street recover or is it in terminal decline?

  • Watch a report from Lowestoft by ITV News Anglia's Rob Setchell

Online shopping has been hitting traditional retailers for many years despite many attempts to revitalise town centres and the pandemic dealt a further blow.

But can the High Street recover and get shoppers back through the doors rather than clicking their orders at home on a computer?

Research by the Centre for Cities think tank suggest of the biggest towns and cities in the country have lost nearly a year's worth of sales during the pandemic.

The report says Cambridge saw the worst figures in the ITV Anglia region with an estimated 36 weeks of lost sales. Norwich, Peterborough and Ipswich lost more than 30 weeks of retail sales.

The report called "Cities Outlook 2022" is the Centre for Cities’ annual economic assessment of the UK’s largest urban areas. It looked at 52 major city and town centres across the UK and found that nearly 2,500 commercial units became vacant during the pandemic. That compared with 1,374 during the previous two years.

Southend and Northampton were among those hit hardest across the country with around one quarter of town centre shop units empty. Despite Cambridge seeing the highest lost sales in the region it has the lowest proportion of vacant retail units at about 12%.

Retail guru Mary Portas is still a champion for shops ten years after she was drafted in by the government to revive the high street. Credit: PA

It comes ten years after the shopping expert Mary Portas produced a report for the government on what could be done to turn around struggling high streets.

Lowestoft in Suffolk got £100,000 its high street while Bedford became a Portas pilot where small independent businesses were mentored and encouraged to be part of the high street experience.

One legacy of the Portas review in Lowestoft was the creation of the business improvement district.

It is called Lowestoft Vision and is now chaired by Danny Steel. He has his own vision of the future: "I think it's going to become more and more like the continental town centres like France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Portugal where you've got service industry in the town centre instead of retail.

"Retail now tends to be out of town or online. I think we need to have more and more of the first and second floors above these units converted into flats so people live in there.

"They become living breathing centres. The world's turned. It's changed, we have to change with it."

  • Watch a report from Bedford by ITV News Anglia's Callum Fairhurst

The Centre for Cities said some areas became the victims of the own previous success after the pandemic hit.

Senior Analyst Kathrin Enenkel told ITV News Anglia: "All the influence factors that were actually pushing Cambridge to amazing results before pandemic, a large catchment area as we know, quite wealthy as well and many workers can work from home, students and also a greater reliance on food and drink, was in the end in the pandemic, a problem for these well performing cities."