Liverpool and Manchester both recorded their busiest week since before the pandemic, as pent-up demand and sunny weather prompted swarms of people to make their way to the bars, restaurants and shops that reopened last Monday.
“This last week has felt nothing short of a rebirth for the city,” said Joanne Roney, chief executive of Manchester City Council.
“It’s been wonderful to see shops open again and the city really start to come back to life in all this glorious spring weather, which has helped to ensure cafes and bars in the city centre can trade safely outside.”
Footfall in Liverpool was clocked at 1.2 million for the seven-day period last week, the highest since before last March when the pandemic hit and the first national lockdown was imposed, according to Liverpool Business Improvement District (BID) Company.
Total footfall in Liverpool over the two days of the weekend reached 525,788 in the city centre, the highest since August bank holiday last year, when 544,000 people flocked to Liverpool following the first significant easing of lockdown restrictions.
On Saturday, the 213,000 people taking advantage of the national reopening of non-essential retail and outdoor hospitality in Liverpool city centre represented the second-highest footfall figure since the beginning of the pandemic – only 5 December 2020 was busier, according to Liverpool BID Company.
“Liverpool bounced back rapidly when restrictions eased in 2020 and we are seeing that pattern repeat itself in 2021 – it has been heartening to see people returning to Liverpool city centre,” said Bill Addy, chief executive of Liverpool BID Company.
He added: “The attraction of Liverpool city centre is its mixed-use economy and we’re seeing that drive an early recovery. Yet we’re all on a roadmap here…and it’s vital everyone sticks to the guidance because even any slippage on the timeline for reopening could have a significant impact on our economy and recovery.”
On Monday 12 April, the first day of reopening, the city recorded a 193% spike in footfall activity compared to the previous week when shops and restaurants remained closed.
On Market Street, Manchester’s main shopping thoroughfare, footfall increased by 17% compared to the same day in 2019, highlighting pent-up demand for high street retail.
This demand was sustained throughout the week, which recorded an overall 20% uptick in activity on Market Street by the end of the seven-day period compared to the same week in 2019.
Greater Manchester’s roads were busier too. Last Tuesday, 6.2 million car trips were recorded, up by 8% or 468,000 on the previous week, the council/CityCo figures showed.
The upswing in visitors to Manchester city centre was also reflected in the number of people using the city’s transport network. The number of bus journeys increased by 41% last week, while an additional 17,000 Metrolink trips were made across, an increase of almost 60% compared to the previous week.
However, no data was provided to demonstrate how transport usage compared with pre-pandemic levels.
Vaughan Allen, chief executive of CityCo and Manchester Business Improvement District, said: “With the glorious sunshine and so many people back in the city centre, the first week of reopening has been brilliant to see.
“We’re delighted to see so many shoppers and people enjoying themselves, and will continue to support businesses with their operations as the national reopening calendar continues.”
CityCo and Manchester City Council worked together to get the city ready for the large influx of people by installing extra public toilets in St Ann’s Square and Piccadilly Gardens, deep cleaning areas of high foot traffic, and waiving pavement license fees for bars and restaurants.
In total, 350 licences have now been provided to hospitality venues in Manchester to allow them to increase outdoor seating in line with legislation agreed in response to Covid-19, according to the city council.
Roney added: “Manchester is a city of reinvention, of creating opportunity out of adversity and we are at our best when we work together. Innovation has been key.”
Shopping centres and retail complexes across the region welcomed back customers for the first time in months and shoppers were happy to wait in long queues outside the likes of Primark and Zara, having clearly missed the experience of physical shopping.
There has been a well-publicised acceleration of the decline in high street retail since the onset of the pandemic, but last week provided a fillip for stores that might have been wondering if they would ever reopen.
However, while trading was strong in the first week following the reopening of non-essential retail and outdoor hospitality, whether it will sustain remains up for debate.
“My gut feeling is that footfall will level out as it is driven by people’s frustration with lockdown,” said David Sturdy, director at PFM Footfall Intelligence, a company that gathers data on city centre activity.
He added that, in future, open-air shopping centres are more likely to be successful than enclosed facilities as “people feel safer” being outdoors.
However, despite a good week for retail, Sturdy does not think that a fleeting spike in demand for in-person shopping will be enough to halt or reverse the demise of the high street.
“My own personal opinion is that the high street needed a kick up the backside,” he told Place North West.
“It will be interesting to see what shopping centres will do. There will be new players and it creates opportunities for others. There are plenty of people who have done very well out of Covid who will come along with new ideas.”