Shop vacancy figures expose UK retail woes

Kasmira Jefford
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BRITAIN’S battered retail sector gained no respite this week as the latest research showed vacancy rates remained stubbornly above 14 per cent last year as retailers continue to shut up shop across the country.

The Local Data Company’s (LDC) latest report published today shows vacancy levels fell slightly from 14.3 per cent to 14.2 per cent last year, although this does not include the latest spate of collapses seen on the high street this year.

LDC warned last month that more than 1,400 stores are now at risk of closure after Comet, HMV, Blockbuster and Jessops among others entered into administration.

The retail specialist, which surveyed 278,915 retail and leisure sites across the country, said shopping centres suffered the highest average vacancy rate at 15.6 per cent.

Town centres had the second highest average vacancy rate (14.2 per cent) followed by retail parks, which have proved more robust at 8.8 per cent. Wales was the worst performing country, with 18 per cent of its stores lying vacant at the end of 2012 followed by Scotland (15.5 per cent) and England, which was the best performer at 13.8 per cent.

London, east Midlands and Yorkshire & the Humber were the only regions to report a decline in the number of empty stores. All other regions suffered a rise in vacancies, with the west Midlands hit the hardest.

“The picture is one of increasing polarisation of performance between town centres, shopping centres and retail parks in every part of the country,” Matthew Hopkinson, LDC direc- tor said. “Online is driving growth for a majority of retailers and so 2013 is all about the supporting role that shops will have as ‘customer experience’ centres and showrooms as much as trans- actions through their tills”.

He added: “Inevitably this means fewer shops will be required... and as such one can expect this divergence in performance to grow.”