Friday 30 July 2021 6:30 am

Two-tiered recovery? High Streets struggle as one-in-seven shops sit vacant

A wave of administrations, closures and downsizing has decimated the UK high street, with new figures out this morning showing one in seven shops are sitting empty – and the problem is getting worse.

In the second quarter of 2021, the overall vacancy rate increased to 14.5 per cent across the UK, from 14.1 per cent in the first quarter when the UK was under strict lockdown, according to data from industry body the BRC.

The rate of empty shops was 2.1 percentage points higher than in the same point in 2020.

London fared better than average, with a vacancy rate of just over 10 per cent, while the High Streets of the North East and Wales seem the most depressing, with an average of one in five shops sitting empty.

The British Retail Consortium said it is now been more than three years of increasing vacancy rates, from the first quarter of 2018, with the Covid pandemic lockdowns making a bad trend worse..

Shopping centres are doing worse than the average high street, with nearly one in five stores within them sitting empty.

Retail park vacancies increased slightly to 11.5 per cent in the second quarter 2021, up from 10.6 per cent the period prior.

Lucy Stainton, director of The Local Data Company, which tracked the vacancy rates said: “Vacancy now sits at the highest rate ever recorded by the Local Data Company. With appetite for new space increasing but still modest, there will simply never be enough demand to meet the supply.

“The property market will be forced to think of more creative ways to utilise this space, to avoid exacerbating the already high rates of long-term voids across our retail destinations which are not only unsightly and costly for landlords, but also have a negative impact on surrounding stores,” Stainton added.

It comes despite data showed Brits were more inclined to head back to shops, bars and restaurants since the reopening of society than they were to go back into the office.

Central and local government have also tried to encourage a steady flow of shoppers into city centres, with the extension to outdoor dining rules in Westminster and City Hall’s relaxation of congestion charges just two of the ideas to reinvigorate areas left shuttered for months.

Helen Dickinson, CEO of the British Retail Consortium thinks the problem could get worse before it gets better.

“The vacancy rate could rise further now the Covid-19 business rates holiday has come to an end.

“The Government must ensure the ongoing business rates review leads to reform of this broken system, delivering on its commitment to permanently reduce the cost burden to sustainable levels,” she added.