Remote working a 'major' factor in lower footfall in Maidenhead

Shay Bottomley

Activity in Maidenhead town centre is recovering although is still below pre-pandemic levels with remote working playing a ‘major’ factor in lower levels of footfall.

A report, which is due to be presented at Monday’s Maidenhead Town Forum, details the changes in footfall, retail space and car park usage up to July 2021.

Footfall is down nearly 30 per cent compared to 2019, with Maidenhead performing better than the rest of the South East at 39.8 per cent and the UK at 45.2 per cent.

This figure has continued to rise as the country has emerged from lockdown restrictions, with the latest figures for July 2021 showing a 25 per cent increase on the previous year.

Footfall is still below pre-pandemic levels, which Steph James, service lead for economic growth at the Royal Borough, believes working from home to be a ‘major’ factor in the lower figures.

“Pre-pandemic, a lot of footfall in the week was due to office working. We have quite a large office population,” said Steph.

“A lot of offices are still working from home and people are still embracing remote working – that probably is quite a major factor in why footfall is not back to where it was.

“Habits during lockdown have also accelerated more towards online, and people are still doing a lot of things differently.

“We’re not out of line with the rest of the UK; footfall in the South East and the rest of the UK is very similar to where we are in Maidenhead.”

She added that she expected footfall to rise as workers begin to return to offices after the summer holidays as well as ‘natural rises’ due to the incoming residential buildings in the town centre.

Nearly one-fifth of the retail spaces in Maidenhead are vacant, a rise of 18 to 53. However, the report noted that 15 of the 18 additional empty units were due to face redevelopment, with the former Topman and Dorothy Perkins shops being empty as a result of Arcadia entering administration.

Car park usage is also down on pre-pandemic levels, with residents opting for short stay surface level car parks over long stay multi-storeys.

On parking, Steph said: “We can’t predict what habits will remain and which will go.

“A lot of our car parking was season ticket holders, such as people commuting into London; Stafferton Way car park, for example, used to be at full capacity from Monday to Friday.

“I think we’re going to have to ‘watch this space’ and see what happens with people’s working habits going forward.

“If people continue working from home, we will see a slower recovery on car parking than footfall because we might see more residents walking into town and less office workers coming in.”

The Maidenhead Town Forum will be streamed live on YouTube on the official RBWM channel from 6.15pm.

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