The UK high street has seen a string of closures in the past couple of years, with multiple stores and businesses forced to relocate or shut down locations, leaving thousands unemployed amid a cost-of-living crisis. From the BHS department store to the Dewhurst butcher shops or the iconic Woolworths, many stores, once household names in the UK, have closed for good over the past 15 years.
The Covid-19 pandemic, however, presented yet another challenge to many businesses and some struggled to attract customers and maintain a sustainable income even after restrictions were lifted. The war in Ukraine, and the subsequent inflation and higher utility bills, has forced even more department stores, restaurant and pub chains, and even bank branches to close.
As Wilko entered administration earlier this month, the public is concerned this store may also soon close its 400 locations across the UK. While the chain’s future is unclear, roughly 12,000 employees may lose their jobs. What’s more, many people fear that the retailer’s collapse may well signify the death of the high street, especially when it comes to small towns with fewer businesses overall.
This prompted our team at TradingPedia to check which stores have closed in 2023 and where. We looked at the high street closures since the start of this year and found out which towns and cities have been affected the most in the UK.
The Ever-Changing High Street: Closures, Relocations, and New Stores Being Opened
The closures are nothing new; while some businesses struggle, others thrive and manage to profit in even the most difficult conditions. Many retailers stay afloat by restructuring and cutting costs, which often means store closures and redundancies. But the UK high street has been hit hard in the past year; back in January, the Guardian reported that nearly 50 stores shut down for good every day in 2022 across the UK. A total of 17,145 locations shut down, which is almost a 50% increase from 2021. Moreover, industry analysts expect similar figures for 2023.
Businesses are now facing increased energy bills and various other economic hardships paired with a decline in foot traffic. The higher cost of living in combination with the rise of online shopping (including takeaway apps and online banking) means fewer people go to traditional, brick-and-mortar stores.
Some, such as Paperchase, are vanishing from the high street for good. In January, the stationery store went into administration, with the brand and associated intellectual properties acquired by Tesco the following day. The deal, however, did not include the 134 stores, the last of which closed in early April, leaving roughly 900 employees out of jobs.
April also saw the closure of all 172 physical shops of the clothing store chain M&Co. and roughly 1,910 employees were let go. Restructuring plans have also led to massive job losses, a good example of which is Lloyds Pharmacy. Hundreds of employees were made redundant after the chain announced in January that it would be “withdrawing” from Sainsbury’s. Although, while the 237 in-store pharmacies are shutting down, the company is still operating in more than 650 locations across England, Scotland, and Wales.
A large number of banks have also closed their physical branches in the past few months. Banking giant Barclays is closing more than 160 branches this year and has announced a few more closures planned for 2024. It says more and more people now choose online banking, as well as mobile banking apps, or even telephone banking services. With footfall plummeting, Barclays has decided to shut down roughly a third of its network.
Other banks closing branches this year include HSBC, NatWest, and Lloyds Bank (including Lloyds, Bank of Scotland, and Halifax branches). However, despite shutting down several physical locations this year, Nationwide promised it would keep its high street branches until at least 2026.
Towns and Cities with the Most High Street Closures in 2023
The high street is struggling all across the United Kingdom and it should come as no surprise that the highest number of store closures occur in the biggest cities. London, of course, tops the list with 83 closures in 2023, and this figure is only taking into account the 20 retailers and brands we looked at (see methodology for more details). Bristol ranks second with 19 closures, followed by Birmingham with 15, Leeds with 12, and Norwich with 10.
These figures should not shock anyone after all, because while 83 stores in London may now be gone, there are thousands of other stores within the city, while tens more are being opened at the same time. Small towns, however, are affected much more significantly because many have only a handful of businesses where customers can shop, and perhaps more importantly, where employees can work. And this is the reason many locals are concerned about the death of the high street.
Thousands of pensioners, for example, still prefer going to physical branches for their banking, grocery shopping at their local supermarket, and buying clothing and homeware only after seeing and touching the item themselves. This is why our team took into account the population of each town as well. So, when we also consider the population figures for these towns, the ranking changes dramatically, with London sinking to the 30th position with 0.95 closures per 100,000 residents.
The town with the most high street closures per capita is Royal Tunbridge Wells or just Tunbridge Wells, in Kent. Although not a small town, it is not a city either, having a population of just over 50,000. This year alone, at least 5 high street stores are closing in the town, which is roughly one closure for every 10,000 people, or 9.76 closures per 100,000 residents. The good news is that compared to some towns, Tunbridge Wells is popular among tourists and still maintains a thriving retail sector.
Another resort town, Torquay, in Devon, ranks second on our list with 9.61 closures per 100K residents in 2023. Located on the English Riviera, Torquay has been a popular holiday destination for decades. At least 5 stores are closing down this year and while it may not sound like a lot, it means employment options for locals are decreasing.
Wirral’s Ellesmere Port comes next with 7.64 closures per 100K population, followed by the seaside town and resort of Bognor Regis in West Sussex, which has 7.31 closures per 100K people. With 10 stores shutting this year or 6.94 closures per 100K, Norwich is the UK town or city fifth most affected by the high street crisis.
High street closures peaked in 2022 and figures for 2023 are expected to be similar since thousands of retail stores, restaurants, department stores and bank branches have already relocated or shut down for good since January. Counting them all is a nearly impossible task, so we looked at only the biggest chains that have announced they would be closing locations this year.
The stores and brands included in our calculations are Barclays, Iceland, M&Co., NatWest, Poundland, Halfords, B&Q, Wilko, Clintons, Argos, M&S, Boots, Lloyds Pharmacy, Poundstretcher, Shoezone, House of Fraser, B&M, Wetherspoons, McColls, The Restaurant Group (TRG), Byron Burger, Prezzo, Paperchase, New Look, HSBC, Nationwide, and Lloyds Bank. For the Wilko locations, we included only the 16 stores already closed in 2023, but have left out the roughly 400 shops currently at risk of closure since their future is still uncertain. On the other hand, we took into account all 2023 closures officially announced by Barclays, including those branches set to shut down in the coming months.
We counted a total of 1,425 high street closures for these 27 stores and banks, found their exact locations, and then, selected the towns and cities with at least 5 store closures in 2023. This left us with a total of 31 towns and cities. To calculate the per capita rates, we checked the latest population figures from the Office for National Statistics and the website CityPopulation.
|Town||High Street Closures in 2023||Population||Closures per 100k||County||Region/Country|
|Birmingham||15||1,121,408||1.34||West Midlands||West Midlands|
|Leeds||12||536,321||2.24||West Yorkshire||Yorkshire and the Humber|
|City of Edinburgh||8||505,310||1.58||Edinburgh||Scotland|
|Bolton||7||184,073||3.80||Greater Manchester||North West|
|York||6||141,671||4.24||North Yorkshire||Yorkshire and the Humber|
|Manchester||6||470,411||1.28||Greater Manchester||North West|
|Royal Tunbridge Wells||5||51,232||9.76||Kent||South East|
|Ellesmere Port||5||65,421||7.64||Cheshire||North West|
|Bognor Regis||5||68,408||7.31||West Sussex||South East|
|Doncaster||5||113,566||4.40||South Yorkshire||Yorkshire and the Humber|
|Coventry||5||345,328||1.45||West Midlands||West Midlands|
|Sheffield||5||556,500||0.90||South Yorkshire||Yorkshire and the Humber|
|Market Harborough||4||24,171||16.55||Leicestershire||East Midlands|
|Brighton||4||277,106||1.44||East Sussex||South East|
|Gateshead||4||115,316||3.47||Tyne and Wear||North East|
|Kingston upon Hull||4||270,806||1.48||East Riding of Yorkshire||Yorkshire and the Humber|
|Stockport||4||117,941||3.39||Greater Manchester||North West|