Offices accounted for around 11% of all addresses on British high streets in March 2020.
“Other services” sectors consisting mostly of private sector office-based firms made up between 29% of high street employment in the North East and 49% in London in 2018, with the rate in City of London at 85%.
High street retail employment fell in more than three-quarters of local authorities between 2015 and 2018.
Hub towns' high streets have retained more of a retail focus than other places, being composed of 36% retail addresses, compared with 29% in Great Britain overall.
High street employment in the accommodation and food services sector was growing in most local authorities between 2015 and 2018.
In 2018, 121,440 people were employed in pubs and bars on British high streets, with London and the South East having the highest numbers.
Between 2015 and 2018, the growth in employment in high street pubs and bars was three percentage points higher than in pubs and bars in non-high street locations.
The population living within easy walking distance of a high street is predominantly in the 16 to 64 years age group, more so than in a local authority's non-high street areas.
Many of the people living on or around high streets in British cities are higher education students.
Retail has been among the sectors most affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The closure of branches was already leading to worries about the decline of retail on the high street. In the context of the almost complete shutdown of Britain's non-essential shops between March and June 2020, it is critical that good data are available to describe high streets as they were before this happened. As shops and the hospitality sector have now begun to reopen, it provides the context to help understand some key changes that are already being seen on the high street, as lockdown eases in some respects.
In 2019, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and Ordnance Survey (OS) joined together to identify the physical geography of high streets across Great Britain for the first time, putting them "on the digital map", and to produce some initial experimental analysis, comparing trends on the high street with those in non-high street areas at regional level. We thank everyone who provided us with feedback which has informed the next stage of development.
This article focuses on updating this joining of official statistics and physical high street locations to produce more regional analysis as well as adding new local authority level insights on the same themes of businesses, employment and people living near the high street. We use the most recent published data, from 2020 for land use classification and from 2018 for employment and population.
During the COVID-19 pandemic people have been spending more time closer to home, with many people working remotely or on furlough. This article looks at how many people actually live within walking distance of a main shopping street and breaks this down by age bands, to give an idea of potential demand for services in a local area. The pandemic has forced social distancing that will inevitably change the way businesses can operate, so we describe how many people are employed in sectors sensitive to this on the high street, for example, cafes and hairdressers, to help give a feel for how many people would normally be working in these places. And to help assess how the function of buildings may change, if physical shopping on the high street continues to decline, we include land use figures that detail the addresses that are currently used as offices, housing, leisure, community services and, of course, retail.
We continue to develop our work which means that the data and results in this article are Experimental Statistics. There are some differences between the figures in this article and the previous output, due to the use of different data sources. We continue to work with Ordnance Survey to develop our work by discovering the physical of shopping malls and retail parks as well as refining the definition of traditional high streets. We hope to release new data tracking the situation in all physical retail settings later this year.
Please note that this work was produced using statistical data from the ONS. The use of the ONS statistical data in this work does not imply the endorsement of the ONS in relation to the interpretation or analysis of the statistical data.
This work uses research datasets which may not exactly reproduce National Statistics aggregates.
The high street geography
The high street geographies used for analysis in this article are the same as those used in the ONS's 2019 publication High streets in Great Britain. The Ordnance Survey geography uses an automated methodology to depict the extent of Britain's high streets and their land use.
The dataset is a high street-specific dataset that provides a street-level definition. It bounds retail clusters using street naming and aims to deliberately exclude other retail functions like retail parks, industrial estates, and isolated shopping centres. To be included in the dataset, a high street must be a named street predominately consisting of retailing, defined by a cluster of 15 or more retail addresses within 150 metres. As a consequence, care should be taken when considering the relevance of these statistics for rural and isolated areas, where smaller high streets may not be captured in the current definition. Similarly, the fact that the definition uses a minimum retail address threshold means that some traditional high streets which are locally important may not be captured. More information is available in Section 7 of this report.
What statistics are included
As well as describing retail in its physical high street setting in Great Britain, this article includes information on residential and other commercial aspects of the high street. The data originate from both OS and ONS sources, with different statistical data definitions by topic. The following paragraphs provide more detail.
The high street features data are provided by OS, including the proportion of addresses that are for residential, retail, leisure and recreation, offices or community usage. Retail usage for the OS high streets data is classified by land use type as defined by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. It differs from the retail definition used for the statistics in the employment section of the output, which are based on the definitions of the Standard Industrial Classification, meaning that care should be taken when comparing the retail data between these two sections. More details on the definitions can be found in the Quality and Methodology section.
The figures in the article are based on data for geographical areas that closely approximate the high street geographies (and in some cases the areas around the high streets).
The data for employment are taken from the ONS Business Register and Employment Survey (BRES) the official source of employee and employment estimates by detailed geography and industry. We use a postcode lookup for these data, resulting in figures that very closely match the geographies of the high street. The geographic coverage (both the OS geography and the joining to ONS employment survey data) are experimental and future improvements to both the high street definition and the geographic coverage of ONS survey data will mean that, over time, data will become more specific to traditional high streets or separate shopping centres, but we are keen to make our initial experimental findings available.
The data for population deliberately look beyond just the high street itself and have been designed to include people living within approximately 200 metres of each high street. We calculated these figures for England and Wales using ONS Census 2011 Output Area population-weighted centroids and the latest small area 2018 mid-year population estimates. For Scotland we use National Records of Scotland latest 2018 small area population estimates for 2011 Data Zone population-weighted centroids. Therefore, when comparing the data across different sections of the article, please be aware that while data on employment are calculated to match as closely as possible to the geographies, the population data, by contrast, include a wider 200 metres area around the high street to capture local populations within a short walk of the high street area.
This article presents a summary of results, with supporting data contained in the accompanying data download. Totals across tables may differ by minor amounts due to the disclosure control methods used. Figures used in the accompanying article may also differ from aggregated table totals due to the disclosure control methods used.Back to table of contents
Land use by address classification, 2020
Around a third of addresses on the high street in Great Britain in 2020 belong to retail shops. More than half of the addresses on British high streets are residential. In most regions and countries, around 10% of addresses are offices and around 2% to 3% are leisure or community facilities. The figures across Britain remain similar to 2019, although there is a slight rise in the proportion of residential addresses, around 1 to 2 percentage points across most regions and countries. The proportion of retail addresses has fallen across Britain by similar amounts. These address data are classified by land use type as defined by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. The data show the registration category of address, but they do not indicate current occupancy or vacancy rates. Figure 1 shows the regional distribution of high street addresses by classification.
Local level analysis of these data show large variations in the land use of addresses on the high street across Britain.
The proportion of addresses on the high street categorised as retail in March 2020 ranged from 11% in the London Borough of Islington, to 63% in Selby, Yorkshire and The Humber. Office addresses represented less than 5% of high street addresses in several local authorities and more than 30% in others. There are fewer addresses in community services than in other land use categories on British high streets but there are still 30 local authorities where they make up 4% or more of addresses.
Residential accounted for between 11% of addresses on the high street in Redditch, West Midlands and around 75% in three London Boroughs. Those local authorities with a notable residential element tend to feature a traditional figuration of shops at ground floor level, with flats above, or, as in the case of Portsmouth, there are purpose-built residential blocks, perhaps for students, very near to high street locations. Data for all local authorities are available in the accompanying reference tables.
Hub towns and high street retail
In terms of the distribution of retail addresses on the high street there is no clear pattern across the country. There is, however, one notable geographic feature in England that sees higher proportions of retail addresses on their high streets: “hub towns”. The official Rural Urban Classification for England identifies towns that play very important roles as “hubs” in the rural areas around them, in terms of providing services, employment and businesses. These 182 towns are present across all regions of England and the Ordnance Survey definition captures high streets in 179 of them. They tend to be free-standing settlements, often with a market town heritage, or sited on historically important trading roads. In this context, it is perhaps not surprising that high streets in hub towns have retained more of a retail focus. Overall, hub towns high streets are composed of 36% retail addresses, compared with 29% in the rest of the country.
Figure 2 shows hub towns in England where at least half of their high street is formed of retail.
You can see address data for individual high streets by linking to an interactive map on the OS website, see Section 6 of this article. You can put a postcode or place name in the search box and see how your high street compares with others. If you click on an individual street, you can see more information like address types or number of buildings as well as values from March 2019 and March 2020.Back to table of contents
Employment by all sectors
In 2018 there were 4,397,240 people employed in businesses1 on British high streets, representing 14% of all employment.
Figure 3 shows the share of employment on high streets in 2018 by industry (using some combined broad industry groups as some sectors are naturally less prevalent on the high street). For most regions and countries in Britain, the retail sector provides between 24% and 29% of high street employment (the figure is lower in London at 15%). A further 12% to 19% of high street employment in all regions and countries is in the accommodation and food sector.
The other service sector category, which includes sectors that typically operate from offices in addition to banks and estate agents, makes up between 29% of high street employment in the North East and 49% in London.
The largely public sector-based industries of health, education and public administration provide between 10% of high street employment in the South East and 20% in Yorkshire and The Humber.
Retail employment on the high street has declined across all regions and countries between 2015 and 2018, with the exception of the North West where it has grown by 4%. Outside of high streets, retail employment showed growth in some regions, up to 6% in the West Midlands and Yorkshire and The Humber, although other regions and countries have seen little growth, or some decrease.
Although the accommodation and food services sector has generally seen growth between 2015 and 2018 this is usually from a lower base than the retail figures. This is particularly apparent in new local level data. These high street data reflect all shopping streets in a local authority that contain a cluster of 15 or more retail addresses within 150 metres. The data show that high street retail employment has fallen in more than three quarters of local authorities over the period. Table 1 shows local authorities where retail employment has fallen between 2015 and 2018, by more than 20% in high streets employing at least 1,000 people in the sector. High street employment in the accommodation and food services sector has been growing in most of these local authorities over the same period, but, with the exception of Woking, still represented notably lower numbers of people employed, compared with high street retail in 2018.
|High street |
change in high
2015 to 2018
|High street |
and food services
change in high street
and food services
2015 to 2018
|Nuneaton and Bedworth||1140||-21.7||440||-4.8|
Download this table Table 1: Local authorities with larger declines in high street retail employment in the context of change in the accommodation and food services sector.xls .csv
As high streets are also supported by the presence of workers in other sectors, Figure 4 shows the local authorities with higher proportions of employment in other service industries on their high streets. This includes sectors that typically operate from offices in addition to banks and estate agents. These data are taken as a snapshot from 2018, so they may be used as an indicator of the usual presence of private sector office workers before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic lockdown. We include these data for information on local high streets that may have seen a drop in their workplace population since March 2020. In the City of London 85% of high street employment fell under the other service industries sector.
The underlying employment numbers by local authority region and country from 2015 to 2018 are available in the accompanying reference tables.
Employment in other high street specific sectors
The COVID-19 pandemic has required social distancing that will inevitably change the way businesses can operate, so this section estimates how many people are employed in sectors particularly sensitive to changes, for example, cafes and hairdressers, to help give a feel for how many people would normally be working in these places on Britain’s high streets. It is important to note that as in previous sections of this article, the Business Register survey data used here does not capture some people in the labour force, please see the quality section for further details.
In 2018 there were 76,060 people employed in hairdressing and other beauty treatment services on British high streets. This represents an increase of 14% since 2015. However, employment growth in this industry on high streets is not as strong as in non-high street locations, where employment in the sector grew by 20%.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic 121,440 people were employed in pubs and bars on British high streets, with London and the South East having the highest numbers. As noted in previous ONS analysis, employment in this sector has grown over the last few years. Between 2015 and 2018 the growth in employment in high street pubs and bars was 3 percentage points higher than in pubs and bars in non-high street locations.
In 2018, 212,520 people were employed in licensed restaurants on high streets in Britain, from 4,520 in the North East, to 77,610 in London. Unlicensed restaurants and cafes accounted for a further 123,260 people employed on Britain’s high streets, meaning that more than a third of people employed in this sector were working in high street locations in 2018. Detailed data on the sectors we have covered here, as well as other high street relevant sectors, from 2015 to 2018, are available for download in the accompanying reference tables.
More about coronavirus
Notes for: Employment on the high street
- "Businesses" in this article refers to local units, which are individual business sites. An enterprise may have more than one local unit across the country. However, in the context of high streets, it is the number of local units that are of interest, rather than the number of enterprises, and therefore the article and data focus on the number of local business units.
During the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic many people have been spending more time closer to home, largely due to social distancing guidelines, but also because of furlough and remote working arrangements. With the possibility that this may continue for some time, this section examines the characteristics of the people living within walking distance of a high street. We have taken the approach with our population analysis to include areas within approximately 200 metres of a high street as well as the high street itself. The most recent available small area population data are from 2018.
Population living around high streets
Around 16% of Great Britain’s population lived on or around a high street in 2018, comparable with 2017. New local breakdowns of the data show large variations in the percentage of a local authority’s population who lived within an easy walk of a high street. London Boroughs had the highest figures, with Camden, Hammersmith and Fulham, Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, as well as City of London, all having more than 60% of their population living on or around a high street.
Outside of the capital, the local authorities where more of the resident population could easily walk to a local high street were mostly, as one might expect, larger urban centres. Liverpool, Worthing, Brighton and Hove, Southend-on-Sea and Portsmouth had more than a third of their local residents living on or around high streets. By extension, rural local authorities, had lower proportions of their resident population able to easily walk to a high street. It is important to note, however, that the current experimental definition of high streets, as provided by the Ordnance Survey geography, only includes larger high streets, those with 15 retail addresses or more. For rural areas in particular, smaller high streets can also be important and work is ongoing to extend the definition to those smaller high streets in a rural setting. Figure 5 shows the 20 local authorities with the highest proportions of their population living with easy walking distance of a high street. Note that we have combined data for the London Boroughs in this chart.
Age structure of high street residential areas
The figures in this section are broken down into three age groups: those aged 65 years and older, 16 to 64 years which includes the majority of people working and children aged 15 years and under. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to many people working from home or on furlough, so potentially accessing their local high street more often. People may also be shopping more locally due to other restrictions, such as the availability of public transport or easily accessible lavatories. Other services, like cafes and restaurants, are not currently operating as before, meaning that for many people it may become difficult to spend longer periods in shopping destinations further from home.
The population living within easy walking distance of a high street is predominantly in the 16 to 64 years age group, more so than in a local authority’s non-high street areas. In nearly a third of local authorities the proportion of people aged 16 to 64 years living on or around the high streets was at least 5 percentage points higher than in the same local authority’s non-high street areas. Figure 6 shows the local authorities where people aged 16 to 64 years make up at least three-quarters of the population living within easy walking distance of a high street. We have detailed the London Boroughs separately as these see large variation in the proportions of residents in this age group.
High streets areas generally have relatively low shares of residents aged 65 years and older, reflecting that in Britain, people in this age group tend to live in more suburban or rural areas. However, there are local authorities where the high street residential catchment area has relatively high proportions of people aged 65 years and older. For example, in Uttlesford people aged 65 years and older represent 30% of the population living on or around a high street, while outside of high street areas, this age group represents only 19% of the local authority population.
Details of all the numbers of people living on or around high streets in 2018, and the proportions by the three age bands, are available for download in the accompanying reference tables. Although we might not expect Britain’s main high streets to have large proportions of people aged 65 years and older living within walking distance, the data are still interesting, given the wider range of services usually available in a local authority’s main shopping streets.
Students living around high streets
The age group 16 to 64 years, which includes the majority of people working, also includes higher education students in Britain. As universities consider their campus learning offerings for the next academic year, this section aims to provide information about high street areas that usually have high proportions of students living on or around them. We have used Census 2011 data to estimate the proportion of high street residential population that is made up of students and linked this back to the most recent higher education statistics for local authorities from 2018 to ensure that we are still identifying areas with a high student presence. Figure 7 details the local authorities with the highest proportions of students living on or around high streets. Several local authorities are the same as those in Figure 6, indicating that students do, indeed, form a notable proportion of the 16 to 64 years age group living on or around the high street in many British cities. These figures may be an underestimate as the available data do not account for more recent purpose-built student accommodation. Further data can be contained in the reference tables.
Back to table of contents
You can see the location of high streets captured in the Ordnance Survey methodology by viewing the interactive map on the OS website.
If you click on an individual street, you can see more information like address types or number of buildings as well as values from March 2019 and March 2020.Back to table of contents
High street coverage
Not all streets that may be considered a high street in Great Britain are captured in the Ordnance Survey (OS) geography. For example, there is no high street visible in our map for Hugh Town on the Isles of Scilly because the density of the retailing does not meet the criteria OS has defined. We have decided to not make a manual intervention to include any shopping street here, as this would make the classification incomparable across other similar areas, such as for some islands in Scotland.
Likewise, a small selection of high streets are not visible in the map for the centre of cathedral cities, like Norwich. In this case, reworking the methodology to automatically capture the streets results in the inclusion of many smaller geographies that do not meet the general expectation of a high street definition. There may be other exceptions, or indeed inclusions, that users find unexpected; we are currently working on an update to the definition with Ordnance Survey, which will see improvements, including the identification of separate shopping centres and retail parks.
Ordnance Survey high streets geography technical specification summary
OS has been working with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to improve our joint understanding of high streets.
Given that no definition of high streets currently exists, OS has created an experimental dataset, using an automated methodology, which aims to depict the extent of Britain's high streets and their land use. The dataset is a high street-specific dataset that provides a street-level definition. It bounds retail clusters using street naming and aims to deliberately exclude other retail functions including retail parks, industrial estates and isolated shopping centres.
The dataset is derived from data products licensed under the Public Sector Geospatial Agreement (PSGA) and is available for evaluation to PSGA members by request only.
The high street dataset considers a high street as an extent along a named street predominately consisting of retailing. Spatial clustering of retail address point geometries from the dataset OS AddressBase Plus on a street-by-street basis was used to form candidate retail clusters from which a high street extent could be derived. Retail addresses were identified using the local authority-defined address classification.
Spatial clustering has been implemented using the data clustering algorithm DBSCAN (Density-based spatial clustering of applications with noise). Candidate retail clusters required a minimum of 15 retail address point geometries within 15 buildings and a maximum of 150 metres between the address geometries in the cluster.
In order to evaluate the land use profile of each high street extent the retail clusters were expanded or infilled to collect all address point geometries and their associated building polygon geometries, on the same named street within 50 metres of a retail cluster. All high street attributes are derived from the infilled clusters and not the original retail clusters. Building geometries are sourced from the OS dataset OS MasterMap Topography Layer.
The red geometries in the images in Figure 8 describe building polygon geometries in a candidate high street cluster containing retailing address point geometries. The blue geometries in the second image describe building polygon geometries added to the cluster following the infilling process.
Other retail functions such as retail parks, industrial estates and isolated shopping centres have deliberately been excluded from the dataset using a series of tests. Each test evaluates each cluster against a combination of form and function criteria.
Whilst every effort has been made to exclude other retail functions we are aware that there are a small number of non-high street geographies remaining in the dataset. For more information on the exclusion tests please see the full technical specification that is available from the Ordnance Survey link in Section 8.
The attributes associated with the address records that make up a high street extent have been used to derive a series of lookups, which relate a high street geography to a number of statistical and geographical identifiers, including the Unique Property Reference Number (UPRN). The ONS has also used a 200-metre intersect of 2011 Census Output Areas in England and Wales and Data Zones in Scotland and the high street building geometries to match some data where postcode-level data are unavailable.
Whilst this work explores high street geography for 2019 only, OS is also considering approaches to deriving additional retail geographies and insights around the changes to the retail landscape over time.
The data for population deliberately look beyond just the high street itself and have been designed to include people living within approximately 200 metres of each high street. We calculated these figures for England and Wales using ONS Census 2011 Output Area population-weighted centroids and the latest small area 2018 mid-year population estimates. For Scotland we use National Records of Scotland latest 2018 small area population estimates for 2011 Data Zone population-weighted centroids.
We have looked at estimates of the population living within approximately 200 metres of a high street. It is a starting point for analysis while other methods are possible like walking distance or driving catchment areas. Further information on the quality of ONS small area population estimates is available.
Business Register and Employment Survey
The Business Register and Employment Survey (BRES) is the official source of employee and employment estimates by detailed geography and industry. This article details employment figures. Employment is obtained by adding the number of working owners to the number of employees. Working owners include sole traders, sole proprietors and partners who receive drawings and/or a share of profits, but are not paid via PAYE.
The Business Register and Employment Survey (BRES) definition of an employee is anyone working on the BRES reference date who is aged 16 years or over that the contributor directly pays from its payroll(s), in return for carrying out a full-time or part-time job or being on a training scheme. Part-time workers are classed as those who work 30 hours per week or less.
all workers paid directly from the business' payroll(s)
those temporarily absent but still being paid, for example, on maternity leave
employees at sites where the planned activity is for less than one year
employees at sites manned for less than 20 hours per week
any agency workers paid directly from the agency payroll
former employees only receiving a pension
self-employed workers (not paid via the business' payroll(s)) where identified
working owners who are not paid via Pay-As-You-Earn (PAYE)
The BRES source gives slightly different results from the experimental employment data in the ONS article High Streets in Great Britain, 2019, which were based on Inter-Departmental Business Register (IDBR) data.
The BRES data used in this article combine some broad industry sectors that have a very low presence on the high street. The trends and proportional industry splits in this article remain very similar to the previously published High Streets research.
Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) 2007
The current Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) (2007) is used in classifying business establishments and other statistical units by the type of economic activity in which they are engaged. The classification provides a framework for the collection, tabulation, presentation and analysis of data, and its use promotes uniformity. In addition, it can be used for administrative purposes and by non-government bodies as a convenient way of classifying industrial activities into a common structure.
This article uses some combined industrial classifications as some sectors are naturally less prevalent on the high street. The list below details how the named categories we use are mapped to the SIC2007 Sections, as well as the -five-digit codes for the high street specific sectors we feature:
Retail: Section part G, Division 47
Accommodation and Food Services: Section I
Other service Industries: Sections J,K,L,M,N,R,S,T,U,
Health, Education, Public Administration: Sections O,P,Q
Other Industries: Sections A,B,C,D,E,F, part G, H
SIC2007 5 digit codes for high street specific sectors:
Hairdressing and other beauty treatment: 96020
Public houses and bars: 56302
Unlicensed restaurants and cafes: 56102
Licensed restaurants: 56101
Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government Land Use Classification
The latest land use classification categories are the result of a collaborative development and data specification agreement between the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, and Ordnance Survey. More information is available within the Land Use Change Statistics 2013 to 2014 Methodology changes guidance (PDF, 1.77MB).Back to table of contents
Ordnance Survey can provide more information on the new high street geography, including the full technical specification and a map with more explorable data.Back to table of contents
Contact details for this Article
Telephone: +44 (0)1329 444123