Town centre footfall still below pre-pandemic level after small growth

Christmas shopping has started early in Ipswich town centre

The latest footfall data shows a small improvement in Ipswich, but is still below pre-pandemic levels. - Credit: Jessica Coppins

Weekend and evening visits are back to pre-pandemic levels in Ipswich as calls are made to support independent traders and infrastructure to help long term.

Centre for Cities data for 63 towns and cities looked at visiting numbers between October 4 and November 7 and revealed a "stark gap" between weekday and weekend footfall nationally. 

Only 11 of the 63 studied places, which were mainly in the north and Midlands, saw their visiting levels return to pre-pandemic. 

Ipswich's overall footfall had risen five percentage points from 84 to 89 between the start of October and November out of a pre-lockdown baseline of 100 and not fully recovered. 

Visiting numbers at weekends and evening were above the 100 index indicating footfall has recovered. 

A Centre for Cities spokesman said: "The stark gap between weekday footfall and evening and weekend footfall suggests that most people are now willing to return to city centres for leisure purposes such as shopping or nightlife, but not for work."

Ipswich Borough Council recorded 66,892 visits to central Ipswich between November 8 and November 15, averaging at 9,556 visits a day. 

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This is up 88pc for the same time period in 2020 which was impacted by a national lockdown starting on November 5, resulting in 35,558 visits in a week.

In 2019, there were nearly 80,000 visits to Ipswich town centre in the same week of November to 2021, meaning comparatively 2021's figures are 16% lower.

Andy Walker, head of policy and public affairs at Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, said: “With the after-effects of the pandemic it is no surprise that Ipswich town centre’s footfall is still down compared to pre-March 2020.

"However, the pent-up demand from numerous lockdowns has meant that those who are shopping in town are spending more. Nonetheless, over time we are seeing a move to more online shopping for convenience and lower prices."

Upcoming figures will show the impact of the return of late night shopping in the town, which began on November 18. 

Ipswich traders have urged shoppers to support them this Christmas, but Mr Walker said there further changes are needed to help the high street in the medium to long term. 

He said: "If we want our town centres to adjust and attract footfall, we need a step change in development, meaning more mixed-use buildings, support for independent traders, better access for walking and cycling, better green spaces and street-scaping alongside further reform of business rates."