Weak consumer confidence, rising unemployment and growth in internet retail sales are leading people away from the high street, resulting in empty shops, according to a property report.
The Local Data Company’s latest Shop Vacancy report, ‘Good and Bad News’, revealed that although the average national rate remained at 14.3% for 2011, some areas have vacancy rates as high as 36%.
According to the report, above average vacancy rates were found in the Midlands and the North, with Stockport showing a rate of over 30%. Nottingham, Grimsby and Stockton all had vacancy rates of over 25%. The South and West had the lowest number of empty shops with St. Albans, performing best with an 8.2% vacancy rate.
Local Data Company director Matthew Hopkinson said despite the vacancy rate remaining stable, there are still too many empty shops throughout the country.
“The stable top line rate of 2011 hides the significant breadth in town centre vacancy rates up and down the country and the structural issues that are at stake,” he said. “The reality is that the odds are stacked against a positive take up of shops and as such the new reality of 48,000 empty shops is here to stay unless an alternative use or purpose can be found.”
British Retail Consortium director general Stephen Robertson said something needed to be done about the number of vacant premises immediately. “It’s a small mercy that shop vacancy rates are not rising but they are still worryingly high in many locations,” he said. “Long-term plans for reviving our high streets are good but real damage is being done now and needs to be addressed.”
Robertson urged government to help reduce shop vacancies by acting on business rates. “The government should be keeping down the cost pressures it is responsible for,” he added. “Most urgently, it should reduce the eye-watering 5.6% business rates increase it plans to impose in April.”