Following the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, many of the UK’s largest cities have seen the health of their traditional retail centres bounce back over the past twelve months, with major positive movement up the list for retail centres in cities including Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Glasgow and Newcastle.
The ranking’s top 20 is still dominated, however, by smaller commuter towns which continue to benefit from a shift in shopping habits to local high streets, and from many families relocating from larger cities due to the impact of remote working. Still, the fundamentals for traditional retail centres—which were negatively impacted as millions of people stopped commuting into city centres and instead worked from home—were improved significantly in 2021.
UK major cities, biggest movers
In Scotland, Glasgow’s main shopping district climbed 153 places from 365 to 212. While in Wales, Cardiff re-entered the top 200, from 397 in 2021. All these retail centres were in the top 100 in 2019—the last Vitality Rankings before the pandemic—indicating that they still have some way to go to make a full recovery, but started 2022 in a much stronger position. In England, Newcastle saw the largest climb up the rankings of major UK cities, from 363 in 2021 to 157 in 2022. Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds also saw rises of more than 130 places from 2021 to 2022, with Nottingham moving up from 280 to 209.
Buckinghamshire market town Beaconsfield topped the list for a second successive year. Locations such as Beaconsfield and Henley-on-Thames have risen sharply since 2019, benefitting from consumers’ shift to local high streets.
Andy Metherell, head of retail consultancy at HDH and lead on compiling the Vitality Rankings, notes the fortunes of larger retail centres seem to be getting back on track.
“The top 50 rankings from 2019 are still very different from the current rankings,” said Metherell. “However, there is cause for optimism for the larger centres and for traditional retail destinations in general. Clearly shopper behaviours are still significantly affected by the pandemic and the associated restrictions on movement, but these results show that the recovery is underway.”