High street hit by most empty lots ever seen

Ben Southwood
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THE number of empty shops in the UK rose to an all-time high in October, data revealed this morning, as shoppers deserted the high street.

Town centre vacancies made up 11.3 per cent of properties during last month, the data from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and Springboard showed – the highest fraction on record. Last October, the rate was just 10.2 per cent across the UK.

“This new high in empty shop numbers really sets alarm bells ringing,” said BRC boss Stephen Robertson. “It’s the worst vacancy rate since the survey began in July 2011 and confirms that financial challenges for both consumers and retailers are far from over.”

The high street also continued to suffer from a decline in footfall, though slightly better results at shopping centres and out-of-town locations made up for some of the downturn.

Total retail footfall was down 2.1 per cent into October, the figures showed, driven by a 2.6 per cent fall in high street traffic – but with falls across the board.

The broader picture between August and October this year was also down – though by a more moderate 0.4 per cent – compared to the same period in 2011, with a 0.9 per cent fall in high street traffic outbalancing marginal growth in the other two main sectors.

“Many retailers are battling stagnating sales and rising costs, and next year’s threatened business rates increase can only make matters worse,” Robertson said.

Robertson has demanded the government freeze rates in order to “breathe life back into our town centres and ensure the retail industry can play its full role in job creation”.

Greater London stood out from most of the rest of the country by enjoying an increase in footfall, which climbed 1.4 per cent between the three months to October last year and the same period in 2012. The rest of England, barring the West Midlands, saw footfall decline, with the East and the South West the two worst hit regions.

Greater London also benefited from a vacancy rate of just 7.6 per cent – in contrast to vacancy rates reaching as high as 15.1 per cent in Wales, 14.6 per cent in the North of England and 20 per cent in Northern Ireland.