Leeds business experts say city centre is 'bouncing back' as it recovers from 39 weeks of lost sales

Business experts say Leeds is well on the way to bouncing back from the pandemic, as a new report shows the gravity of the economic impact on the city centre.

By Abbey Maclure
Monday, 24th January 2022, 4:45 am

The Cities Outlook 2022 report, released by think tank Centre for Cities, found that Leeds city centre lost the equivalent of 39 weeks of sales between the first lockdown and the onset of the Omicron variant.

That's more potential sales lost than any other large town and city in Yorkshire.

The figures have come as no surprise to experts at the Leeds Business Improvement District (BID) and the West and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, who have been working tirelessly to support Leeds businesses during the pandemic.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Leeds BID chief executive Andrew Cooper is confident the city centre is showing strong signs of recovery

But they remain optimistic that the city centre is starting to thrive once more, citing the arrival of large firms, major investment and a significant increase in footfall from this time last year.

“Leeds is already bouncing back," Mark Goldstone, the Chamber's head of business representation and policy, told the Yorkshire Evening Post.

“The feedback we’re getting from businesses is that the run-up to Christmas was pretty good in terms of shopping and footfall.

“I think people have missed the experiential nature of being in shops and people are starting to come back out to theatres and cinemas, nightclubs, bars and restaurants.

Footfall was nearing pre-pandemic levels across Leeds city centre prior to the emergence of the Omicron variant, Leeds City Council has revealed

“It feels like an entirely different place to even 12 months ago.

Read More

Read More
Leeds entrepreneur and founder of eGrowth Media on building a six-figure busines...

“I’m optimistic; Leeds was on a fabulous growth trajectory before Covid and even though it’s been slowed a bit, there’s so much good stuff happening - new investment coming in, new organisations setting up in the city.

“There’s a bright future ahead if we can get through the next few months.”

Mark Goldstone, head of business representation and policy at the West and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, said one of the biggest issues for businesses is attracting talent

Andrew Cooper, chief executive of Leeds BID, said Leeds is in a strong position for a city of its size.

From five new arrivals in the Victoria Quarter, to an increase in weekend spending, he's confident the city centre is showing signs of recovery.

“Our view for the city centre is how we can work collaboratively in the recovery period," Mr Cooper said.

"I think we’re in a much stronger position than last year when we were still a little dazed by it all.

“As a business improvement district we’re getting back to the basics, making sure the city centre is clean, it’s safe and it’s friendly.”

Leeds BID has recently purchased more cleaning equipment for its street rangers, who carry out deep cleans seven days a week to make pavements shine as people return to the city centre.

The not-for-profit organisation is also working closely with West Yorkshire Police to review resources and community plans, as well as continuing to provide free training, workshops and jobs fairs at its Engine Room space.

Mr Cooper added: “For the BID, supporting businesses is really important - particularly the hospitality sector which has been hardest hit.

“We’ll carry on doing those events to support businesses, while recognising there will be changes for the city centre in certain areas. We’ve seen that with Debenhams for example.

“But I think Leeds is in a strong position. You can see the number of cranes and that’s a good indication of the development and investment that has been going on during the pandemic.”

The Chamber has lobbied on behalf of Leeds business throughout the pandemic, pressing the Government for financial support and making sure owners are aware of the help available.

As well as being a "shoulder to lean on", Mr Goldstone said one of the most important roles of the Chamber is now helping businesses to fill job vacancies.

He added: "One of the biggest issues, particularly for manufacturers, is attracting talented young people.

"The Leeds Manufacturing Festival launches next month, that's about making young people aware of the fantastic opportunities that exist in the city.

"Smaller businesses in particular often struggle to articulate what their skill needs are, so we're working with the sectors to ensure we can put that into something that colleges and training suppliers can do something about.

“We’ve got the Bank of England, National Infrastructure Commission, the FCA and a load of brilliant business and tech firms coming into the city.

"We just need to make sure that organisations have access to talent."

Leeds city centre footfall returning to pre-pandemic levels prior to Omicron

Footfall was nearing pre-pandemic levels across Leeds city centre prior to the emergence of the Omicron variant, Leeds City Council has revealed

Although those numbers dropped as infection rates rocketed, the council says the end of Plan B restrictions will drive more people into the city centre.

From Thursday, mandatory Covid passes will no longer be needed to access venues large events, and work from home guidance will come to an end.

Councillor Jonathan Pryor, Leeds City Council’s executive member for economy, culture and education, said: "Leeds city centre continues to bounce back from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the council remaining committed to doing everything it can to support local business.

"Leeds City Council has already distributed more than £290 million worth of assistance to the businesses and charity sector since the start of the pandemic, with a further two schemes recently being announced.

“The council has also worked to increase the city centre offering, delivering a programme of activities across the year to drive increased levels of footfall.

"This is highlighted by the success of the Christmas period, where a coordinated marketing campaign and curated activities successfully drove thousands of people into the city centre.

“Prior to the emergence of the Omicron variant, footfall was returning to pre-pandemic levels across the city centre.

"In the autumn we saw a strong recovery of workers coming back into Leeds, with Leeds train station seeing passenger numbers in October 2021 return to 2019 levels.

"With the imminent end of ‘Plan B’ restrictions the council remains confident that this trend will continue into 2022.”

Support the YEP and become a subscriber today. Enjoy unlimited access to local news and the latest on Leeds United. With a digital subscription, you'll see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Click here to subscribe.