A “DRAMATICALLY accelerated” shift to online purchasing during the pandemic has the potential to hurt non-essential high street retail in the region, a report has claimed.

According to a West Yorkshire Combined Authority paper set to go before regional council chiefs, around 131,000 Covid-related grant payments have been made to businesses in the region since November 2020.

The document claims payments, which include restart grants and additional restrictions grants, have totalled £372m. But it added that a “number of challenges” were identified for the region’s economy.

It stated: “The shift to online purchases has accelerated dramatically, well ahead of pre-Covid trends, particularly in non-essential retail. Footfall in all centres has decreased, although some centres have performed better than others in growing footfall once lockdown restrictions have been eased.”

It added “national strategic decisions” on retail store closures have impacted high streets across the region, with some large units now vacant.

Just 8 per cent of West Yorkshire businesses are planning to move premises in response to pandemic

Large retailers such as Topman and Debenhams have closed stores in Bradford and Leeds.

However, there appeared to be “stronger demand trends” for independent retail – meaning shoppers are looking towards smaller, more boutique options.

The document stated: “To some extent West Yorkshire is bucking the trend in terms of in person shopping, with greater numbers returning to shops than in other parts of the country.”

It comes alongside another WYCA report which claims economic activity has “continued to increase” in most of West Yorkshire’s urban centres, while Leeds city centre’s economic activity was recently at “97 per cent” of pre-pandemic levels.

The number of furloughed workers across West Yorkshire fell to 10.3 per cent from 12.6 per cent a fortnight earlier, while the proportion “in their usual workplace” stood at 56.7 per cent.

The paper will be presented to Local Enterprise Partnership's annual meeting on Wednesday.