Merseyside high street in top three for footfall across country

People have returned to Birkenhead town centre at a quicker rate than almost anywhere else in the country following the national lockdown earlier this year.

Numbers from the Centre for Cities compared urban areas across the country to measure their economic revival post-lockdown and found that Birkenhead was in the top three in terms of footfall recovery.

The figures make for good reading for the Wirral town, which is recovering its footfall at a much faster pace than Liverpool and Manchester.

Many will be concerned that the return of large numbers of people in the town centre will exacerbate the borough's high rate of coronavirus infections.

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The most recent figures show that 330 Covid-19 cases have been recorded in the last seven days of figures for Wirral (between September 8 and September 14) at a rate of over 100 per 100,000 people.

But the high footfall numbers do not necessarily mean restrictions are being broken.

The town’s speedy recovery could help it manage the potential economic hit from new rules being brought in tomorrow, which limit household-mixing and force pubs and restaurants to shut by 10pm.

It is already the case that people must not gather in groups of more than six.

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What the figures show

All areas were measured against a baseline figure of 100, which represented how many people visited the high street in a three week period between February 15 and March 6.

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Birkenhead scored 124, meaning 24% more people are heading into the town centre compared to the period before lockdown rules were first brought in.

That number beats all urban areas in the country apart from Blackpool at 141 and Bournemouth at 133.

At the start of July, Birkenhead’s footfall was less than half its pre-lockdown levels, but numbers rapidly picked up as restrictions were eased at the start of July and the last few days have seen another spike as the weather has improved.

While footfall has risen above pre-lockdown levels, spending is still slightly short of where it was before tight restrictions were brought in.

Birkenhead scored 93 for its high street spending, meaning spending in the town is 7% down on pre-lockdown numbers.

The Wirral town compared favourably with Liverpool, which scored 69 for footfall and 84 for spending.

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Birkenhead was also above Manchester’s numbers of 49 for footfall and 64 for spending, but Warrington’s numbers of 104 for football and 96 for spending were more impressive than the North West’s two biggest cities.

Of course, one reason for the speedy return of footfall to Birkenhead could be that it was not very high before the lockdown.

Among the cities at the bottom of the table nationally are London and Manchester, two huge cities which would need to see massive numbers of people returning to hit their pre-pandemic levels.

Nonetheless, Birkenhead and Tranmere councillor Pat Cleary welcomed the news.

He said he had been struck by how many people had been out and about in the town since restrictions were eased in July.

The Green Party councillor said one factor behind the positive numbers might be that people’s shopping habits have changed as a result of the pandemic.

Around half of all households in the Birkenhead and Tranmere ward do not have cars and some may be reluctant to use public transport to travel to out of town shopping centres and places such as Liverpool due to the risk of contracting or spreading the virus.

On the long-term answer to improving Birkenhead as a town, Cllr Cleary added that progress is being made on plans to regenerate the town centre, with new commercial space and a new marketplace promised as part of the project.

However, as Wirral along with the rest of Merseyside and other parts of the North West prepares for the enforcement of tighter restrictions tomorrow, Cllr Cleary urged people to follow social distancing rules and avoid gathering in groups larger than six.

This, he said, was particularly important given chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance's warning that the UK could see 50,000 Covid-19 cases a day by mid-October if action is not taken to stem the tide of rising case numbers.

One part of Birkenhead’s economy which has not seen the same level of recovery is the amount of workers in the town centre.

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Birkenhead scored just 35 in this measure, reflecting the fact that many are still working from home as coronavirus cases continue to rise.

The government launched a campaign to get people to go back to offices at the end of last month, but this evidence suggests workers and companies in Birkenhead have been reluctant to do so.

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