// National town centre rate grows to 10.3%, according to new BRC-Springboard data
// Footfall declines 1.9% in July
// High street footfall down 2.7%, shopping centres down 3.7%, but retail park footfall up 1.2%
The number of empty retail units in town centres across the UK has reached the highest levels in four years, further exacerbating the decline in footfall plaguing the retail industry.
According to the latest Footfall and Vacancies Monitor from BRC and Springboard, the national town centre vacancy rate was 10.3 per cent in July, a further increase on the previous quarter rate of 10.2 per cent and the highest since January 2015.
Meanwhile, overall footfall declined by 1.9 per cent in July, compared to the same point last year when it declined by 0.9 per cent.
This also marked the worst decline for July since 2012.
Of the overall figures, high street footfall declined by 2.7 per cent last month, while footfall at shopping centres fell by 3.1 per cent.
Retail parks fared better, with a 1.2 per cent increase in footfall.
BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said retailers had faced a “challenging environment”.
“Sluggish sales growth and declining footfall also contributed to the rise in town centre vacancies, which rose to their highest level since January 2015,” she said.
“High streets and town centres play an important part in our local communities, and we should be concerned by the rise in empty store fronts.”
Springboard insights director Diane Wehrle said the rising vacancy rate “highlighted the ongoing challenges faced by bricks and mortar destinations”.
“Consumer demand is ever more polarised between convenience and experience, and the stronger performance of out-of-town destinations reflects the fact that retail parks are successfully bridging the convenience-experience gap,” she added.
“They not only offer consumers accessible shopping environments with free parking and easy click and collect opportunities for online purchases, but many also combine this with an enhanced experience that includes coffee shops and casual dining restaurants, and some also have leisure facilities.”
Dickinson urged the government to take action to relieve the pressure on the high street.
“Currently, retail accounts for five per cent of the economy, yet pays 10 per cent of all business costs and 25 per cent of all business taxes,” she said.
“The rising vacancy figures show this is simply not sustainable. We need an immediate freeze in rates, as well as fixing the transitional relief, which leads to corner shops in Redcar subsidising banks in central London.”
Last month was also the worst July on record for year-on-year growth in total retail sales.
Figures from the BRC-KPMG retail sales monitor published earlier this month showed sales edged up by just 0.3 per cent year-on-year in July, compared with an increase of 1.6 per cent in July 2018.