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Town centre vacancy levels expected to peak at 14%

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The number of vacant retail units in UK town centres is expected to peak at 13 to 14 per cent in the coming years but will plateau at around 11 per cent by 2014, according to new research.

In the British Council of Shopping Centre’s (BCSC) latest report, ‘Empty Shops: What does the future hold for town centres?’, the rise in the number of supermarkets nationwide, e-tail expansion and changing demographics are blamed for the rising number of unused units.

UK shopping centres have also grown space at a rapid pace since the 1980s, the BCSC noted, creating alternative options to high street shopping.

The findings were announced yesterday at the BCSC’s Annual Conference & Exhibition in Manchester, and a number of leading retail property figures highlighted ways in which the empty space can be brought back to life.

Richard Akers, Managing Director for Retail at real estate group Land Securities and BCSC President, commented: “Boarded up shops are the most prominent symptom of the plight of some town centres, the state of which has been magnified by a number of high-profile reports in recent weeks, and of course by TV celebrity and businesswoman Mary Portas’ appointment by the government.

“The problem, whilst clearly exacerbated by the economic downturn, is a structural one, and with this research we’re hoping to move the debate on to focus on how we can bring unoccupied retail space back into use in the long term, or put it to alternative uses.”

While a significant percentage of retail units have closed down on the high street, there has been a large rise in the number of value stores, betting shops and pawnbrokers occupying space in town centres nationwide.

The major supermarkets, including Tesco, Sainsbury’s and The Co-operative Food, have also been continually increasing their convenience portfolio in communities across the UK.

Recent Local Data Company research showed that northern and midlands regions of the UK are the worst affected by empty shops, with Stockport, Blackpool and Grimsby the three largest centres with the worst vacancy rates.

On average, almost 30 per cent of units in Stockport were vacant in the first half of 2011.

The Portas Report will be published later this year with the aim of highlighting ways to improve Britain’s high streets, but change will only occur if all industry figures work together to find the relevant solutions.

BCSC CEO Michael Green said: “Above all, leadership is needed to make sure that town centres continue to be relevant and attractive to consumers.”

Published on Wednesday 21 September by Editorial Assistant

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