Footfall levels still not reaching pre-pandemic numbers in Mansfield town centre

Mansfield's Old Town Hall
By Andrew Topping, Local Democracy Reporter

Figures show the number of people visiting Mansfield town centre failed to return to pre-pandemic levels in the first quarter of 2022.

However, a retail expert in Nottinghamshire says the town’s economy has recovered “more quickly” than neighbouring city centres like Nottingham as it relies “less heavily on daily commuters”.

Mansfield District Council papers show 1,131,959 visits were made to the popular market town during the first three months of this year, and 416,715 visits were made in March alone.

The figures – the most recently available for publishing by the authority – are almost double the number of visits for the same period in 2021 when 579,568 people attended the town across three months.

The 2021 figures came, however, when the country was under Covid lockdown measures, with only essential shops open during the early months of last year to tackle a national surge in infections.

The most recent figures for pre-Covid visits to the town are for the first three months of 2020, just as the pandemic began to take hold at the end of March that year.

Those figures show 1,200,348 visits were made to the town centre during the first quarter of 2020.

January 2020 saw the highest number of visits for any of the months included within the data, at 460,209, before numbers gradually fell to 409,412 and 324,727 in February and March amidst the backdrop of the emerging virus.

It means shopping numbers in the first three months of 2022 failed to hit figures for the same period two years earlier, despite there being no Covid measures in place at any point this year.

And concerns have been raised that the loss of major high street retailers during the pandemic – including Debenhams, Topshop, Topman, Burton, Dorothy Perkins and Beales – means the town has a “less-varied offer”.

Nelson Blackley, an independent retail analyst in the county, believes this could be the case and says rising household bills could also mean spending in town centres does not “drive-up” during the winter.

He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “It is recognised the Mansfield town centre economy is ‘weak’.

“The closure of Debenhams, Burtons and Topshop have left vacant retail units in key locations and a less-varied and attractive retail offer. This, of course, is the same challenge faced by many towns and cities across the UK.

“But unfortunately the pressures on disposable income for so many families because of increased energy food and fuel costs won’t help drive up spending on non-essentials in the short and medium-term at least.”

However, Mr Blackley also drew on a recent Centre for Cities study which found towns like Mansfield are recovering from the pandemic at a faster rate than cities due to lower reliance on out-of-town visitors.

The study found about 70 per cent of Mansfield’s town centre spending comes from people within the district, while neighbouring Nottingham relies on outside shoppers for about half its high street spending.

And Mr Blackley added Mansfield’s economy has continually improved “week-on-week” since the start of 2022, according to the study.

Mansfield BID, the organisation which manages and promotes businesses in the town centre, is one of the public bodies responsible for attracting visitors to the town.

The organisation has been holding events in Market Place to drive up visitor numbers, with a recent Armed Forces day bringing 15,000 people to the high street.

Jay Rowlinson, chief executive of the BID, admits the loss of the high street retailers has affected footfall but says the town has bounced back.

He said: “Taking the town centre forward is based on making and embracing positive change. The new high street is going to look different to the old.

“[We are] working consistently on increasing business and retail opportunities, filling vacant shops, bringing a café culture, embracing the greening of the town and being proud of our town and ensuring we all support our high street.

“It’s important that all in the town embrace ‘the feel-good factor’ and be part of the positivity that is being brought back into Mansfield.”

Members of Mansfield District Council’s overview and scrutiny committee will discuss the high street figures during a meeting on July 19.

(Visited 1 times, 1 visits today)