High street, shopping centre vacancy rates start to dip
Prospects for the UK’s high streets and shopping centres could be looking up. The number of empty stores has fallen for the first time since the beginning of 2018, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC).
In a “glimmer of hope” for Britain’s retailers, high street vacancy rates across Britain fell to 14.4% between October and December. But let’s not get too carried away. That’s only 0.1% better than the previous third quarter but 0.7% worse than at the same point in 2020, according to the BRC and the Local Data Company (LDC) numbers.
Shopping centre vacancies also improved to 19.1%, which was 0.3% better than the previous quarter but 2% worse than the same point in 2020. Shopping centres have always had higher vacancy levels than shops in retail parks or on high streets, but this trend has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Just over 14% of all retail units in Britain’s shopping centres sat empty two years ago.
Meanwhile, retail parks remain the most popular destination for shoppers, with an average vacancy rate of 11.3%.
Before the pandemic, about 12% of all stores in Britain were vacant. However, with businesses forced to stop trading for several months during lockdowns, that figure had risen to 14.5% by last spring and it stayed at that level through to the end of autumn.
The data showed that London has the lowest proportion of empty stores, with a vacancy rate of 11%. By contrast, in the northeast of England one in five shops is unoccupied.
Northern towns and cities generally had higher vacancy rates than those in the south. The BRC put that down to “higher disposable income and greater business investment” in the south, which meant that empty stores were repurposed more quickly.
Of all the regions, the northeast was the only one where the vacancy rate rose between the third and fourth quarters of 2021.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of BRC said that the drop “offered the first glimmer of hope for Britain’s beleaguered shopping destinations [after] retailers and their landlords have been crippled by the pandemic.”
Dickinson also repeated her calls for the government to reform business rates: “Business rates reform remains the most effective way of helping to drive much-needed investment to left-behind communities all over the UK,” she added.
Lucy Stainton, a director of the Local Data Company, which compiled the report, added: “Vacancy rates are a strong barometer of the health of our high streets. With this in mind, it is very encouraging to see the increase in empty units finally stabilising after such a sharp rise over the past two years. This is the first real indication that the most significant structural impacts of the pandemic are potentially at their peak for certain regions.”
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