Shop vacancy rates experienced their first significant reduction of 2012, a new report has shown.

According to the Local Data Company (LDC), vacancy rates reduced by 0.16% in October to 14.41%. This is the first time in 2012 that the rate has been below 14.5%.

The monthly barometer also revealed that the percentage of independent units increased by 1% to 68%.

LDC director Matthew Hopkinson was cautiously optimistic about the figures. “Not since December 2011 have we seen the rate below 14.5% so it is cause for optimism,” he said. “What this reflects is the increasing importance of independent shops in populating our high streets as many multiples reduce stores or in the worst case close entirely.”

Although this is its lowest rate in a year, it is still higher than the British Retail Consortium’s recent UK vacancy rate of 11.3%. According to BRC figures, Northern Ireland had the highest vacancy rate in the UK (20%) followed by Wales (15.1%) and the North & Yorkshire (14.6%).

Director general Stephen Robertson said the vacancy rates, the highest ever recorded by the BRC, show that “financial challenges for both customers and retailers are far from over”.