OS and ONS release report on the geography of Britain’s high streets

We’ve been working with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to define and analyse Britain’s high streets

4 minute read
When you’re out shopping, you might think it’s easy to define a high street and where it starts and ends. But is it that simple? Can a town have more than one high street? Is the road called High Street in your town still the primary shopping area? Or has the purpose of the road shifted over time?

We’ve been working with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to define and analyse Britain’s high streets. Together, we have been working out how many high streets there are in Great Britain, what types of properties and businesses are on high streets, as well how the number of businesses and employment has changed in recent years.

By our methodology, Britain had 6,969 high streets in 2019, with the greatest number found in London (1,204) and the smallest number in the North East (276). Our figures also show that across Great Britain over half (56%) of addresses on high streets are residential, with just under a third (31%) being used for retail.

Take a look at our interactive map using OS Open Zoomstack highlighting all of the high streets on the OS website.

How did we define a high street?

You can read the full methodology and findings in the report released by ONS today, but our starting point was to think of a high street as a location people visit to shop, eat and drink, which we classify as ‘retail’. We looked for all addresses classified under retail within our AddressBase Plus dataset. From there, we wanted to understand streets with clusters of retail addresses.

We then created algorithms to make a decision on what a cluster is. To avoid naming small rows of shops as ‘high streets’, and to keep the data clean, we decided that a minimum of 15 retail addresses would be required to create a high street, provided they are within 150 metres of each other.

By using this spatial cluster analysis – in conjunction with street names – we’ve been able to create linear (straight line) clusters along a high street rather than sprawling clusters.

What did we find out about Britain’s high streets?

High streets are typically between 200 metres and 500 metres long and the most popular names, after ‘High Street’, such as Market Place or Church Street hint at their geographic or historic importance. The top 10 are:

  1. HIGH STREET, 755
  2. MARKET PLACE, 103
  5. LONDON ROAD, 80
  7. MAIN STREET, 69
  9. KING STREET, 51
  10. FORE STREET, 46

The longest high street in Great Britain, is London Road in Southend-on-Sea at 2983m. The longest high street in Scotland is Dumbarton Road in Glasgow at 1706m and in Wales it is High Street in Bangor at 1265m.

The North West of Britain has the second longest length of high streets, almost three and a half times the length of high streets in the North East.

RegionNumber of high streetsTotal length of high streets in metres
SOUTH EAST915328.256
NORTH WEST866340.616
SOUTH WEST591197.465
NORTH EAST276101.252

Find out more about the report on Britain’s high streets

The full High streets in Great Britain release is available here, with data on employment, property prices and more.

The dataset is derived from data products licensed under the Public Sector Mapping Agreement (PSMA) and One Scotland Mapping Agreement (OSMA) and is available for evaluation to PSMA or OSMA members by request only.

From 1 April 2020, the One Scotland Mapping Agreement (OSMA), was superseded by the Public Sector Geospatial Agreement (PSGA).

The Public Sector Geospatial Agreement

Ordnance Survey and the Geospatial Commission

The Public Sector Geospatial Agreement (PSGA) is a contract between Ordnance Survey and the Geospatial Commission, on behalf of the public sector in England, Wales, and Scotland. It's the route for public sector member organisations to access, use and share our ever-evolving location data.

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