Leeds city centre bouncing back to ‘almost pre-pandemic levels’, report claims
Economic activity in Leeds city centre has bounced back to almost pre-pandemic levels, retail experts have claimed.
According to Geolytix’s retail recovery index, Leeds has seen West Yorkshire’s biggest increase in economic activity in recent weeks – back to 97 per cent of pre-pandemic levels – significantly higher than the 73 per cent overall national average.
A local retail representative has welcomed the findings, but added the city centre economy is missing the extra spending no longer being provided by those now working from home.
A report, set to go before the West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) annual meeting this week, added that one in 10 jobs throughout the region were furloughed in early May – the lowerst level since November last year.
It also claimed bus and rail use has increased “markedly” since restrictions were eased back in April, but warned private vehicle use was recovering even faster.
Martin Dickson is head of marketing at Leeds BID, which looks after traders in Leeds City Centre. He said the word from individual businesses is that they indeed have been seeing something of a rennaisance in the past few weeks.
He added: “Looking at some of the figures and what I have heard, it’s more positive that the perception would have indicated.
“Harvey Nichols the Saturday before last did better than the same Saturday in 2019. The footfall and monitoring reported two days of trade where the footfall was better than 2019.
“The hospitality reopening was important, but retail and hospitality work hand in glove. It was more important the May 17 went ahead with lifting of hospitality restrictions – people spend more time around shops if they can have a drink or a butty.
“One thing we have seen is a lot more honest and positive collaboration between businesses that wouldn’t have worked with each other before – people have been united to a common cause, which is recovery.
“Retail centres who would have been competitive are banging the drum to get people into the city centre.”
WYCA’s latest Covid-19 Insights Report stated economic activity has “continued to increase” in most of West Yorkshire’s urban centres in the week to May 20, according to Geolytix’s retail recovery index.
It added: “Leeds has seen the most notable increase in recent weeks, and activity was at 97 per cent of pre-pandemic levels in the latest data. Huddersfield was the only main centre to see activity fall, but remains second highest overall at 83 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, higher than the 73 per cent averaged nationally.”
The number of furloughed workers across West Yorkshire fell to 10.3 per cent from 12.6 per cent a fortnight earlier, while the proportion “in their usual workplace” stood at 56.7 per cent.
Nearly half of all businesses in the region enabled home working – two thirds of those now say staff are either already back in the office or will be within six months.
However, one out of five businesses says staff will now work from home for either 12 more months or permanently.
Mr Dickson spoke of the need to get office workers back into the city centre, in order for businesses to be better supported.
“They are missing the commuters,” he added. “For example, I’m working one day a week in the city centre now – that is four days of that week where I am not buying a coffee where I otherwise would have done.
“It is about encouraging that flexibility to allow people to come and work in the city centre again.
“People realise that a combination of (working from home and the workplace) will be healthier for them and better for them than being forced to work from home.
“We have to add that extra experience so when people do come back in they say ‘this is ace – it is better than being at home on my computer’!”
A Leeds City Council spokesperson said: “There has been a strong partnership approach to re-opening the city centre, with city centre management, LeedsBID, Leeds Hotels and Venues Association and Visit Leeds working together with retail and hospitality businesses to safely welcome customers back to the city centre.
“Future works will soon transform the city with greener space, among the first are the creation of a new ‘plaza’ space outside the Corn Exchange and the development of the Meadow Lane public space, which effectively marks the official start of the delivery of the new City Park in the South Bank.”
It added that, across Leeds City Centre, there was now an extra “25 per cent” outdoor seating space for hospitality business, as well as extra family events to get people back into the city centre.
The statement also claimed the road improvement works along the Headrow and Park Row have provided widened pavements, new trees, cycle lanes and bus shelters – along with safer road crossings.
The report into West Yorkshire’s economy will be discussed by WYCA’s annual meeting on Wednesday, June 9.