16% of retail units lie empty across the country

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empty retail unit
// The shop vacancy rate in the UK stands at 15.9%, according to figures obtained by Duff & Phelps
// This means almost one in six high street shops lie empty
// Duff & Phelps calculated the total number of retail units that stand empty is at 50,578

New figures obtained by a corporate restructuring specialist firm has found that almost one in six retail units across the UK are vacant.

The data – obtained by Duff & Phelps following a recent Freedom of Information (FOI) request sent to local councils across the UK – shows that 15.9 per cent of all shops and retail outlets in the country now lie empty.

This percentage is based on ONS figures that indicated there were 319,000 retail businesses in 2018.

With a total of 418 councils in the UK, Duff & Phelps’ mean average based on the councils that responded to its request shows that the total number of retail units that lie empty stands at 50,578.

This equates to an average of 121 empty retail units per council.

Duff & Phelps said these figures quantify the scale of the challenge facing the UK high street after one of the toughest trading periods since the 2008 recession.

“Getting an accurate picture of the real health of the high street is difficult, but by using FOI, we managed to gain valuable insight into what local authorities are experiencing,” managing director Philip Duffy said.

Duff & Phelps said its figures were in line with those released by retail analyst firm Springboard, which found that vacancy rates are now running at around 10 per cent.

However, it differed in that local authorities under FOI have released them, which Duff & Phelps believe “should be more reflective of the reality on the ground” because “an empty retail unit does not necessarily mean it’s vacant and available for lease”.

Duff & Phelps highlighted that in the first 100 days of 2018, some 18 mid- and large-sized retailers collapsed, impacting more jobs than in the entire year prior.

The firm believes this trend also in the first half of 2019.

It is estimated that business rates are the equivalent of 2.3 per cent of overall business costs for a traditional bricks-and-mortar retailer, compared to just 0.6 per cent for online-only retailers.

“The impact on local government cannot be underestimated either,” Duffy said.

“FOI also identified that 9 per cent of UK local authorities are retail landlords in their own right.

“Empty units mean lost rental and business rates income, all at a time when many local authorities are reporting increased financial pressures.

“The old financial model of the traditional brick and mortar retailer — based on a high street or shopping centre built around them in the post war era — was centred on regular increases in sales and 25-year leases with upward rent reviews only.

“As a result, it has meant high rents and occupancy costs. This has blown apart as a result of both the discounters and the dramatic uptick in online sales.

“The remaining question is whether this picture continues throughout 2019 and if so, at what speed?”

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