Workers at Burnley in Lancashire and Chatham in Kent are the first in the UK to move from work to the office since the pandemic began, latest figures suggest.
According to the think tank Center for Cities, weekday frequency in these two locations – suggesting people walking to and from offices and other workplaces and lunchtime activities on the main street – has returned to pre-pandemic levels.
In contrast, London remains the location with the lowest frequency on weekdays, which is 44 percent of normal activity prior to March 2020.
The numbers are published in the Center for Cities monthly High Streets Recovery Tracker for September, which shows the average weekday frequency across the UK is 67 percent of pre-pandemic levels.
That is a 60 percent increase in August, suggesting a shift away from home work after the summer vacation.
The think tank said the high activity in the centers of Burnley and Chatham indicated fewer people in those cities are able to do jobs that can be done from home, such as manual labor, factory labor and army barracks. With the end of the vacation in September, more workers will be called back to the office.
The overall footfall in the centers of the UK’s 63 largest cities continued to rise, underscoring the shift away from home work.
The largest increases were in Sheffield, Nottingham and Chatham.
But ten major cities and city centers saw declines – including seaside resorts like Blackpool, Bournemouth and Southend, where activity would have been artificially higher during the August residential boom.
In Blackpool, Swansea, Burnley, Chatham, Sunderland and Dundee, overall frequency – which includes weekend activities and workers on Main Street – is back to pre-pandemic levels or higher.
In London, it is 49 percent of the pre-pandemic level. Academics believe that the capital and other major cities are suffering from a “zoom shock” where a high proportion of the workforce can settle in the suburbs and do business virtually.
But the gradual move away from home work in many smaller cities is being welcomed by ministers as they strive to get civil servants and other employees back into the office after Treasury Department internal estimates have calculated that it will cost the economy £ 30 billion a year.
Blackpool high street activity is 123 percent of its pre-March 2020 level, suggesting the seaside resort is still attracting visitors despite the decline since August.
Outside the capital, Milton Keynes, Oxford, Luton and Slough are the least frequented places – all major centers for office and other computer-based office work that can be zoomed in at home.