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Vacancies rise as the high street declines

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National shop vacancies levels rose 2.5 per cent in the 12 months to the end of 2010, according to new data released today.

The Local Data Company’s (LDC) annual Shop Vacancy Report shows town centre vacancy rates in Great Britain increased from 12 per cent at the end of 2009 to 14.5 per cent at the end of 2010, with large centres in the north and midlands of England seeing the biggest increase in empty shops.

Regional differences show southern areas with an average of 12.3 per cent vacancies whilst northern and midlands areas are above the national average, with Yorkshire and Humber at a particularly worrying 21 per cent.

The main spur for this trend seem to be that online shopping becomes more popular, making high streets ever quieter, which means multiple retailers look to concentrate their bricks and mortar presence in busier shopping centre and out-of-town locations.

Mark Hudson, Retail and Consumer Leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers, said: “The further significant shift in shopping behaviour to online, which is now heading towards around ten per cent of retail sales, is the underlying driver behind the long-term structural change in how we shop and the key reason why shop vacancy rates continue to increase.

“This, combined with the fact that existing space is not converted to alternative uses as fast as new space is added, is contributing to an oversupply of space.”

Margate has the highest vacancy level of any centre in the UK with 37.4 per cent of stores lying empty, and 90 per cent of the top 25 highest vacancy large towns are in the midlands or the north of England.

With the current government seeing the domestic demand as less important to long-term economic strength, the LDC report questions the likelihood of the high street ever returning to its post-recession shop occupancy rates.

Liz Peace, CEO of the British Property Federation, said: “These figures show the number of small shop owners holding vacant property continues to increase - raising serious questions about the government’s decision to increase its tax on empty shops from April.

“A nation of shopkeepers is rapidly becoming a constituency of taxpayers, with the owners of property unfairly taxed on something they are not deriving income from.

“If we are to revive our high streets we need to retain that money to kick start investment, not see it disappear into central coffers.”

Some 10,250 retail companies are currently facing financial distress according to research by Begbies Traynor, and the Centre for Retail Research predicts 10,000 shops with close in 2011, with recent closure announcements by Arcadia, HMV Group and O2 seeming to back this up.

High streets will never revert back to the compositions they once had only a few years ago, according to Mathew Hopkinson, Director at the LDC, but they can become vibrant locations which reflect modern shopping needs.

“Vacancy is just one side of the coin,” Hopkinson argued.

“Occupancy is also dramatically changing with a greater number of leisure uses taking over the high street along with pound shops, pawnbrokers, bookmakers, charity shops and hairdressers.

“Mixed use offers tied in with community is the future of our town centres and as such all involved need to react accordingly for them to have any future at all.”

Published on Tuesday 15 February by Editorial Assistant

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