Landlords hit as retailers shut up shop

LANDLORDS are being squeezed as struggling retailers abandon high streets which are losing out in the battle against malls, according to property experts.

As cash-strapped consumers rein in their spending the face of the UK’s high streets are changing with major chains closing hundreds of stores.

As much as 14.5 per cent of the UK’s high street retail space is now vacant, according to figures from the Local Data Company, with landlords saddled with bills for empty premises.

The number of retail leases granted in 2002-04 was 11,205 but plunged to 5,162 by 2009-10, according to data from the British Property Federation. Companies forced to pull up their shutters on some stores are Mothercare, off-license Oddbins, HMV, outdoor retailer Blacks and sports shop chain JJB.

JJB is paying its landlords a reduced lease level under a “company voluntary agreement” which has helped save the retailer from the clutches of administration. James Anderson, assistant director at the British Property Federation, said landlords were being hit in the pocket as they not only lost out on rents but were forking out for business rates on empty premises.

“The closures are hitting landlords on the high street hard. Malls like Westfield and Brent Cross in London are doing very well because they are seen as so-called ‘destination’ shopping places where everything is under one roof.

“High streets need to find their way again and the government obviously realises this because it has ordered a review.” He said landlords were offering shorter leases to retailers, with four and a half years the average.

He added: “They are doing everything they can to help.”