High street vacancy rate hits 10% as April footfall continues to decline

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high street vacancy
// National town centre rate grows to 10.2%, according to new BRC-Springboard data
// Footfall slips by 0.5% in April
// High street footfall down 1%, retail park footfall up 2.2% and shopping centres down 2.1%

One in 10 retail units in town centres across the UK now stand empty according to new data, marking the highest vacancy rate in four years and further exacerbating the decline in footfall.

According to the latest Footfall and Vacancies Monitor from BRC and Springboard, the national town centre vacancy rate was 10.2 per cent in April, a further increase on the previous quarter rate of 9.9 per cent and the highest since April 2015.

Meanwhile, overall footfall declined by 0.5 per cent last month, compared to the same point last year when it declined by 3.3 per cent.

High street footfall declined by one per cent – a lesser decline relative to last year when it fell by four per cent. The three-month average is 0.1 per cent.

Retail park footfall increased by 2.2 per cent, in contrast to April 2018 when footfall decreased by 1.8 per cent. The three-month average is 1.0 per cent.

Finally, shopping centre footfall declined by 2.1 per cent, a significant slowdown from a year ago when it decreased by 3.1 per cent, and in line with the three-month average.

“With regular reports of shop closures, it may come as no surprise that town centre vacancy rates rose to their highest level in four years,” BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said.

“Empty shopfronts, particularly for larger stores, can deter shoppers from an area, decreasing footfall for all those around.

“This effect can be cyclical, with the long-term decline in footfall pushing up vacancy rates, particularly in poorer areas.

“Furthermore, the cumulative impact of government policy costs – from spiralling business rates to the apprenticeship levy and more – have also made physical space less cost effective.”

Springboard insights director Diane Wehrle said: “There is an obvious distortion in the year-on-year footfall results for April due to the early Easter in March last year.

“However, the expected bounty as a result of Easter occurring in April this year did not provide enough of a boost to deliver positive figures for the month, with footfall still 0.5 per cent lower than April last year.

“This demonstrates the continued challenges facing many retailers, also reflected in the 10.2 per cent vacancy rate which has risen in each of the past four quarters and is now the highest it has been for four years.”

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