IT WAS once a bustling place for shopping, eating, drinking and learning about history.

But these days Winchester city centre cam sometimes appear a ghost town. Will it ever be the same again after the pandemic?

There are currently 18 empty shop units, with businesses forced to close or move out in these challenging times.

These used to be occupied by the following: Laura Ashley, Starbucks, Whittards, Bellis, West Cornwall Food Co, Edinburgh Woollen Mill, Blu Bambu, Hasta Shop, City Cobbler, Debenhams, Hotter, Jigsaw, The Whole Hog, Royal Bank of Scotland, Bakehouse and Park Life Kids.

Despite the closures, Winchester has been named as one of Britain’s leading shopping locations in new research.

The city ranked as the UK's 34th best performing, in a list of 1,000 retail centres compiled by strategic retail property consultancy, Harper Dennis Hobbs (HDH).

It climbed 27 places compared to last year’s rankings.

Andy Metherell, head of retail consultancy at HDH, explained: “Our analysis is unique as we use variables that both consumers and retailers consider when assessing shopping locations to rank the top 1,000 retail centres in Great Britain. This Vitality Ranking looks very different from previous years as the ‘retail health’ of high streets across the country has seen contrasting fortunes since the start of the pandemic.

“The most vital retail centres currently provide services that are essential to people’s lives, such as grocers and pharmacies. These essential retailers have been able to trade throughout the strictest lockdowns, and consumers have not been willing or able to travel far to visit these stores.

"Shopping patterns have therefore changed significantly since the start of the pandemic, and consumers’ local high streets are benefitting at the expense of major destinations.”

As reported last week, Winchester's shop vacancy rate is relatively low when compared to the big picture.

It is below the national average at 11.2 per cent, up from 6.9 per cent at the start of 2020 just pre-Covid. The High Street vacancy rate is 12.4 per cent compared to the national figure of 13.3 per cent reported by the British Retail Consortium.

Unemployment is only 2.6 per cent compared to 6.3 per cent nationally.