Depressed retail activity in central London is part of a general shopper malaise in the Southeast, rather than a knee-jerk reaction to the introduction of the congestion charge.
The latest SPSL Retail Traffic Index figures reveal shopper numbers in London and the Southeast fell by 9 per cent in the week commencing February 16 - the first full week of the charge - compared with last year. The fall was more than double that in the West End specifically.
Activity in the charging zone was down 4.3 per cent on the same period last year, with a drop of 2.6 per cent in the area between the zone's edge and the North and South Circular ringroads.
SPSL said many factors were affecting retail and it was too soon to take a pessimistic view of the charge's effect.
A spokesman said: 'There was too much extraneous noise interfering with retailing last week, bearing in mind half term, the ongoing disruption on the Tube and unseasonably good weather. Inevitably some people will have made short-term changes in their shopping activities to avoid congestion charges, but whether they stick to that change in routine is doubtful.'
Both Bluewater and Lakeside shopping centres said it was difficult to ascertain whether they had benefited at the expense of shops within the congestion charging zone because shopper numbers were skewed by split half-terms in their catchment areas.