The nation’s towns are bearing the brunt of widespread branch closures carried out by major high street chains and banking giants, The Yorkshire Post can reveal.
Analysis for this newspaper shows that small, medium and large towns, rather than cities, were disproportionately affected by the closure of hundreds of branches of Marks & Spencer, Toys R Us and House of Fraser last year.
READ MORE: Kate Hardcastle: Why our high street shops must wake up and smell the coffee
And amid concerns about falling footfall in town centres due to changing shopping habits, it is feared such closures are leaving many high streets in a “state of physical disrepair”.
The Yorkshire Post today launches a week-long series of special reports on the region’s high streets as business and political leaders struggle to ensure a brighter future for the traditional hearts of their communities.
And figures produced by the Centre for Towns reveal the extent to which smaller conurbations have been affected by closures of major chains and banks.
Of the 700 bank branch closures over the course of 12 months, only 131 were in cities, while 353 - more than half the total - were in towns of varying sizes.
The trend is the same for closures of branches of Marks & Spencer, Toys R Us and House of Fraser. All but three of the 38 M&S closures last year were in towns, and the figures do not include the recently-announced closures of more than 100 stores in locations including Huddersfield and Rotherham.
Sixty-six of the 96 Toys R Us closures were in towns and only 20 in cities, while all but five of the 31 House of Fraser closures were in towns.
The think-tank’s Will Jennings, a political science professor at Southampton University, said: “High streets are being squeezed by out-of-town shopping, the continued resilience of city centres and the growth of online shopping. This is impacting on jobs and the local economy, but also on the physical face of towns – as our high streets are often left in a state of physical disrepair, and shops are not reopened.
“Footfall in town centres has decreased by 17 per cent over the last decade.”
Sheffield Labour MP and chair of the Commons Housing and Communities Committee Clive Betts is heading up an inquiry on the future of the UK’s high streets and the vital role they play in people’s lives.
He said: “People are shopping differently. We had a move in the 80s and 90s to move to out of town shopping centres and now people are going online.
"The figures we have, and they are growing every year, is that 20 per cent of sales were done online.
“You can’t take 20 per cent of sales away from shops and expect all the shops to survive and that really is driving the change.”