The number of empty shops on Britain's high streets continued to soar to unprecedented levels in 2009, although the rate of closure has slowed, according to research from the Local Data Company.

Town centre vacancy rates across the country rose from just under 10% in the middle of 2009 to more than 12% at the end of December.

British Property Federation chief executive Liz Peace said the next government would need to balance spending cuts with ideas for reinvigorating badly affected regions.

"This doesn't mean simply building more shops, but a thorough re-evaluation of what we need, and how we take existing empty properties and use them for other things," she said.

More than 2,400 high street stores in the convenience food and drink sector closed down in the second half of 2009, largely driven by the collapse of the First Quench off licence group. However, the losses were countered by the opening of more than 3,000 stores, fuelled by the growth of symbol groups and convenience multiples, the company added.

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