The viability of the high street is under threat from an increase in empty town centre stores.

According to the Local Data Company’s latest Shop Vacancy Report, empty shop premises increased from 12% at the end of 2009 to 14.5% to the end of last year.

The North and Midlands showed the highest rate in empty shops (average 16.5% vacancy), with Yorkshire top of the list for large town centres with a 21% vacancy rate. The North West topped the medium and small town centre list, showing a 19% and 17% vacancy rate in each category respectively.

LDC business development director Matthew Hopkinson said the number of empty stores may be difficult to bounce back from. “The sad reality is that the number of vacant shops are increasing with certain areas of the country severely impacted and unlikely to recover,” he said. “These high streets will never revert back to what they once were.”

British Property Federation chief executive Liz Peace said there needs to be cooperation between the local authorities and traders to stop the decline. “Many high streets will never return to their pre-recession days, and given the structural nature of these changes, the challenge for local authorities is to work with businesses - including retailers and landlords - to sensibly manage this transition and to be creative in looking for new roles and uses for empty shops.”

The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) called on MPs to act quickly to halt the demise of high streets. “We need a change in the law and by amending the Localism Bill MPs have a chance to show their constituencies that they care about the high streets at the heart of their communities,” said ACS chief executive James Lowman.

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