From the people who move you: Guy Robinson
Let’s face it; the past twelve months have been a challenge at best for many people.
How has life since lockdown affected our relationship with the high street? Some people might be convinced that internet shopping and convenient home deliveries have reduced our dependence on local amenities, but the statistics tell a different story.
According to Strutt & Parker research, the number one motivator for moving home amidst the pandemic was the chance to live in a preferred area. For 81% of respondents in our Live Moves, The Next Chapter research, the old adage ‘location, location, location’ has influenced their decision to up sticks.
And when it comes to desired location, almost a third of respondents (29%) said they wanted to live in a big city. A town was the choice of 17%, and 12% said they would prefer a small city. Here, we take a closer look at some of the reasons why.
Our research asked homebuyers about their moving plans during the pandemic. Three out of four respondents cited access to shops as a motivation for purchasing a new home, a stark rise from 47% just five years before. But why is this the case?
As of March 2021, more than 11 million jobs have been supported by the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and roughly half of the UK workforce have been working completely away from their office or place of work. Without the need to commute, furloughed and remote workers have spent more time at home, heeding advice to avoid unnecessary travel.
When non-essential shops reopened their doors to customers in June 2020, business secretary Alok Sharma heralded the move as one that would “allow the high streets up and down the country to spring back to life.” The Cabinet member’s prediction proved true as 62% of adults who returned to shops after the first lockdown took to their high streets to purchase non-essential goods. Meanwhile, only 25% and 19% of returning shoppers said they had been to retail parks or shopping centres respectively.
So, how might these trends translate in post-pandemic Britain? YouGov data suggests that 46% of Britons will continue to buy from local sources when lockdown measures are completely lifted, while almost one in four (24%) will increase their spending with local producers.
For many adults the prospect of visiting shops in an indoor setting is a cause for concern. 48% of adults say they would feel uncomfortable when shopping in an enclosed retail space, such as a shopping centre. The same proportion (48%) said they would feel comfortable picking up non-essential purchases from high street stores.
Home buyers ranking the most important amenities within a reasonable walking distance placed supermarkets at the top of the list, with an average score of 5.76. Meanwhile, local shops (5.72) and corner shops (4.94) took the next two positions in a retail-dominated wish list for new primary homes.
Homebuyers expect their new address to provide much more than convenient shopping opportunities. Hospitality venues scored highly in their wish lists too, with restaurants, cafés, bars and pubs scoring an average of 4.62. It’s no surprise that we crave places to eat and drink in public as for every new opening of a licensed premise last year there were 2.5 closures – almost double the ratio in 2019.
During a year when the nation’s health has been under more scrutiny than ever, GP surgeries (4.43) and pharmacies (3.79) also scored highly.
Proximity to schools also featured in the list of wants and needs, with a score of 3.44. It seems parents are keen for their children to return to school and with good reason. The Institute for Fiscal Studies found that secondary school pupils who were not given the chance to return to school in June/July last year spent almost 50% less time studying compared with before the pandemic.
Despite social distancing concerns when using public transport and reduced services, at least in the short term, homebuyers are still keen to move into a property with good transport links. 26% of respondents (the largest proportion) said they felt they needed to be no further than 2 miles from the nearest transport hub. A further 23% hoped to move within a mile of a transport hub and 14% planned to move within half a mile of one.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the proportion of people aged 16 to 64 living in close proximity to high streets is at least five percentage points higher than in the same local authorities non-high street areas. In Oxford, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Wakefield more than 80% of residents living close to high streets fall into this age bracket.
If we consider Census 2011 data, students in higher education (included in 16–64-year-old age group) make up a considerable portion of residents living on or close to high streets. The ONS highlight that the figures may be an underestimate as data doesn’t account for recent purpose-built student accommodation.
Despite this caveat, the figures could be changing with the times. Our research found that for those aged 65 and over – more than 12 million people in the UK – access to shops and amenities is the most important motivation for moving (81% mentioned it).
Some local authorities already report high proportions of people aged 65 and over living close to high streets. In Uttlesford, Essex, for example, people within this age bracket represent 30% of the population living in close proximity to the high street. Away from high street areas, this age group makes up only 19% of the local population.
Will we a see people become more reliant on the need to access local amenities in the future? The research suggests so and the effect on the housing market could be felt long after social distancing measures are lifted.
Alistair Heather, head of Strutt & Parker’s Bath office comments: “Yes the pandemic might have motivated some to move out of urban areas in search of more space, but what we have seen from our clients is that having access to amenities still ranks highly in what people value when looking for a home. People want to be able to cycle to their local highstreet, walk their children to school and jog in between coffee shops at the weekend. Instead of wanting to go and live in isolation, people want to feel part of a community.
This is why the concept of living in a 15-minute city or town where residents are able to meet most of their needs within a short walk or bicycle ride from their homes is extremely desirable. People want to feel that they have everything they need on their doorstep and this has been reflected in our research.”