Manchester, Wigan and Preston top the table of high street losses due to Covid pandemic

A man walks past a shop window in Manchester during lockdown in 2020 Credit: Danny Lawson/PA Archive/PA Images

The Covid-19 pandemic has cost many places in the North West more than half a year’s worth of high street sales, according to a new report.

The research by policy unit Centre for Cities reveals that central Manchester is the worst affected in the region, having lost 41 weeks of sales between the first lockdown in March 2020 and the onset of Omicron.

Businesses in the centres of Wigan and Preston are been also among the worst hit.

Burnley’s town centre lost the fewest weeks of sales (8 weeks) in the North West during the pandemic – making it the least affected in the country.

> Living with Covid: What does a future with coronavirus look like?

> What Covid restrictions will be left in England after Plan B is dropped?

The number of weeks of potential sales lost in the five worst-affected city and town centres during the pandemic. Source: Centre For Cities

Nationally, Covid-19 has cost businesses in city and large town centres more than one third (35%) of their potential takings since March 2020.

Across the 52 city and town centres studied, 2426 commercial units have become vacant during the pandemic, against 1374 between 2018 and 2020.

The report found that high streets in economically weaker places have been less impacted by Covid-19.

Meanwhile in economically stronger places, business closures increased during the pandemic.

Shoppers return to Preston Market in June 2020 Credit: Jon Super/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

Centre For Cities suggests that the government’s Covid-19 support successfully stalled the decline of many struggling high streets.

However, it is feared that it may have simply stored up pain for the future.

The report warns that many less prosperous places in the North West face a wave of new business closures this year.

The charity said government support was "less effective in economically stronger places due to higher rents and a lack of custom from office workers" with stronger city centres bearing the economic brunt of the pandemic.

The good news is that higher levels of affluence mean that they are likely to recover quickly as restrictions end and office workers return.

Burnley town centre which lost the fewest sales Credit: ITV Granada

Andrew Carter, Chief Executive of Centre for Cities, said: "While the pandemic has been a tough time for all high streets it has levelled down more prosperous cities and towns in the North West.

"Despite this, the strength of their wider local economies means they are well placed to recover quickly from the past two years."

Centre for Cities, which aims to improve the economic success of UK cities, wants to see campaigns to encourage leisure visitors back to avoid "levelling down prosperous places."

It is calling for part-time season tickets to encourage workers back to the office.

And it wants policy-makers drafting the government's Levelling Up White Paper to focus on investing in skills and local economies rather than "cosmetic quick fixes" in areas which are struggling.

Mr Carter added, "The bigger concern is for economically weaker places where Covid-19 has actually paused their long-term decline.

"To help them avoid a wave of high street closures this year the government must set out how it plans to increase peoples’ skills and pay to give them the income needed to sustain a thriving high street.

"Many of these places are in the so-called Red Wall so there is a political imperative for the government to act fast, as well as an economic one."

Top 9 places where businesses have lost the most potential sales during the pandemic

1. Manchester (41 weeks lost)

2. Wigan (29)

3. Preston (27)

4. Liverpool (26)

5. Blackpool (16)

6. Birkenhead (15)

7. Blackburn (12)

8. Warrington (11)

9. Burnley (8)