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COVID-19 impact on commuter footfall could see 400,000 job losses across England’s high streets

Tom Bottomley
14 January 2021

Commuter footfall loss could be up to a third on pre-COVID levels across England, and high streets could lose 20-40% of their retail offerings as a result of the accelerated shift to online shopping combined with the continuing trend of people working from home.

The shift could see over 400,000 job losses on the high street, as well as a “levelling up map” with some of the more prosperous towns in the South East among the more vulnerable, according to a new report by KPMG called "The future of towns and cities post COVID-19".

The accelerated shift to online shopping is no doubt exacerbating the vacuum in city and town centres, with less people calling in to shop. The report says that the loss of commuter flow in England could range from over a tenth to under a third of commuter footfall seen pre-Covid - with the likes of Hemel Hempstead and Bracknell set to see up to 27.4% of office work performed from home.

Andy Pyle, Head of Real Estate at KPMG UK, said: “Almost all companies will maintain physical space, but it will be there for three main purposes - collaboration, creativity and culture, and there will be less space devoted to standard desk space for tasks that could be done remotely.”

Combining the impact of home working and loss of retail outlets with the strength of current cultural assets, the report calculated an index of vulnerability for towns and cities in England as the changes coming from the pandemic pull them in different directions. It could deal a real hammer blow to locations heavily reliant on commuter footfall but lacking in a strong cultural offering.

Cities like London, Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester benefit from a strong cultural offering that partially compensates for the loss in commuter footfall and retail outlets on the high street. But, on the other end of the scale, places like Warrington and Basingstoke are hit relatively hard by the loss of commuter footfall and retail offering as they have a more limited cultural offering to attract people to their centres.

Yael Selfin, Chief Economist at KPMG UK, commented:As people travel less for work or to shop, town and city centres will need alternative offerings to fill vacant space and to attract people to the area as we hopefully leave the pandemic behind sometime this year.

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