High street vacancy rates are below 14% for the first time in four years, according to new research.

The Local Data Company has revealed that 13.9% of shops were empty in December, in contrast to a peak of 14.6% in 2012.

However, the North-South divide remains marked, with vacancy rates in the North West and North East increasing over the past year. Vacancy rates in the North West are the highest in the UK with 17% of units empty, while only 8.1% of shops remain empty in London. Across the UK, more than 50,000 stores remain empty.

Morecambe had the highest rate of shop vacancies, with the northern towns of Bolton, Bootle, Eccles, Stockton-on-Tees and Hartlepool also in the top 10.

Sanjeev Vadhera, director of North East Convenience Stores, said business was doing well at his stores in Hartlepool and Stockton-on-Tees due to their residential locations. “It doesn’t make a different what’s going on in the town centres,” he added.