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Less retail, more housing and food outlets – how the UK’s high streets are changing: ONS

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Retail’s place on the UK’s high streets is changing, according to new analysis from the ONS.

UK high streets had 2% fewer retail businesses on them in 2017 than in 2017, while retail jobs on the high street fell between 2012 and 2017, according to the ONS and Ordnance Survey High Streets in Great Britain report. “Our research,” said the report, “confirms the general view that the number of retail businesses on the high street has been falling.”

Last year between 25% of 31% of high street related jobs were in retail across most of the country – except for London, where only 18% of high street workers worked in shops. In 2012, 29% of all high street businesses were retail. Retail has moved elsewhere, with the fastest retail growth taking place outside of high street areas. The ONS and Ordnance Survey found that the number of retail businesses operating on the high street fell in all regions of Great Britain except London (+4%) and the North West (+7%). Those areas also saw relatively high levels of growth in retail businesses outside the high street. 

But while retail jobs went from the high street, the number of jobs in the accommodation and food sector increased by more than 20% and residential populations also grew – rising by 6% over the same period. In 2017, 62% of property sales on high streets were for flats, up from 40% in 1997, and more than half of Great Britain high street addresses were residential. 

Altogether, found the study, there were 6,969 high streets in Great Britain – defined as clusters of 15 retail addresses within 150m, linked to roads. The longest high street was London Road in Southend-on-Sea, at about 3km. Retail may be used to define the high street, but the role of retail within those high streets is clearly changing.

Image: InternetRetailing Media/Paul Skeldon

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