Northern and midlands regions of the UK are the worst effected by empty shops, new research published today has confirmed.
Figures from the Local Data Company (LDC) show that the average national vacancy rate in the country remained at 14.5 per cent throughout the first half of 2011 but whilst occupancy has risen or held up well in the south of the country and in London, other areas have headed in the opposite direction.
Of the larger retail centres Stockport has the highest vacancy rate of 27.7 per cent, up 3.5 per cent year-on-year, followed by Blackpool and Grimsby which both saw empty shop numbers rise around one per cent to 27.5 per cent in total.
In medium-sized centres, Altrincham, Barrow-in-Furness, Newport in Monmouthshire, Dartford, Blackburn, Dewsbury, Hartlepool and West Bromwich all have more than a quarter of retail units empty, whilst worst performing Dudley saw vacancies rise 16.1 per cent year-on-year to reach 29.4 per cent.
Retailers are increasingly moving stores to bigger and better centres, whilst closing shops in smaller towns meaning places like Shepherds Bush, home to the Westfield London shopping centre, has a vacancy level of just 6.4 per cent.
Matthew Hopkinson, Director at the LDC, commented: “This report shows how fragile the British high street is in parts of the country. The pressures it faces are increasing and therefore one needs to be realistic in one’s approach to each and everyone of these towns if they are all to have a future.
“The stark reality is that Great Britain has too many shops in the wrong locations and of the wrong size. The diversity of shop vacancy rates is clear evidence that a local approach is required that ties in with consumer needs and the realities of modern retailing.”
Poor secondary centres are most at risk of becoming unsustainable as retail destinations according to the LDC report but many smaller centres are still attracting shoppers with specific and niche offerings.
Places such as Beaconsfield, Epping, Bridport and Stanmore all have almost no empty shops with vacancy levels below three per cent, but due to having a fewer number of shops smaller centres in general have greater levels of volatility and tiny Leigh Park, Margate and Wandsworth all have vacancy levels over 30 per cent.
Liz Peace, CEO of the British Property Federation, agrees with Hopkinson that many retail units must now “transition to other uses” but not all are willing to give up on the country’s struggling retail centres.
Association of Convenience Stores CEO James Lowman argues that money is not being used to support and revive these ailing areas, and says “the problem is that the millions of pounds that are being invested in retail are being invested in out of town supermarkets and retail parks.
“Vacancy rates on UK high streets are more than just a symptom of the recession. Towns up and down the country are crying out for new investment. This investment is necessary not to prop up but to reshape and modernise our existing centres.”