A report by Norwich City Council shows the impact Covid-19 has had on retailers in the city and highlights the importance of its many independent businesses.
The Retail Monitor Report details findings from a survey carried out in July across the city’s shops. It looks at vacancy rates and changes of shop type across the city to create a picture of how well it is performing. The last survey of its kind was done in October 2019, and the picture has dramatically changed since then, largely due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The latest report finds that although city centre retail has been hit by the pandemic, it appears to be doing better than many other centres in the country, both in terms of vacancies and footfall.
For the city centre as a whole, there has been an increase in vacant floorspace from 5.5% to 14.5% and in terms of units, this has increased from 10.1% to 14.1%. This compares to the GB retail vacancy rate of 15.8%.
Councillor Mike Stonard, portfolio holder for inclusive and sustainable growth at Norwich City Council, said: “We understand this has been a really difficult time for businesses in the city, especially those that rely on footfall, but despite a reduction in retail floorspace and an increase in vacant units, Norwich has demonstrated that it is still a robust city and a thriving retail centre.
“Footfall has increased since the lifting of restrictions and the city council will increase its monitoring of the retail sector and continue to provide help and support to businesses, as it has done throughout the pandemic, moving to consider policy response if needed.”
The month-on-month footfall picture for Norwich, post-lockdown is positive, with the city performing above the national average of 24% at 52.4%. For the East of England, this figure is 28.8%. Figures from the Norwich Business Improvement District (BID) show that footfall increased by 444% the week that restrictions were lifted in April, with nearly 50,000 people visiting shops in the city.
The report also shows a number of national chains closed in the city centre, but the city’s independent retailers performed much better. While pressures were shown in areas that have large floorspace, such as retail parks, smaller shops have been doing well, with some units converting back to retail from other uses.
Local and district centres, such as the shops on Sprowston Road/Silver Road or The Larkman have also remained vibrant and, on average, have a lower vacancy rate than the city centre with several neighbourhood centres having no vacant units at all. This suggests they are offering a good range of services and that during the pandemic more people shopped locally.
As well as its support for businesses, Norwich City Council has made a number of improvements to the city, increasing its appeal as a shopping destination. Streets have been closed to general traffic, made one-way or pedestrianised and some businesses have benefitted from outdoor seating.
The council has also been successful in its bid for £25 million of Town Deal Funding, which will deliver eight key projects in the city. These will provide a significant boost to deliver major regeneration, much needed skills, infrastructure and jobs in Norwich. All of which show the city council’s commitment to supporting and growing the local economy.