Retail needs help as store vacancy rates grew in Q1
Alarm bells are continuing to ring over the future of Britain’s retail. Despite a positive return for non-essential retail this month since lockdowns in England, Wales and Scotland so far, yet more store closures are expected in the months ahead.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) is calling for extending the business rates holiday for retail until 2022 to help reduce costs as industry figures show more than 5,000 stores have closed during the coronavirus crisis to date. One in seven stores were vacant across the country at the end of March.
Local Data Company (LDC) figures complied for the BRC show the overall vacancy rate rose to 14.1% over the first three months of the year, up from 13.7% in the final three months of 2020. Vacancy rates have been increasing for three years and the trend has accelerated during the pandemic, it noted.
Shopping centres were the hardest hit, with vacancy rates rising to 18.4% from 17.1%. High streets rose to 14.1% from 13.7%, while retail park vacancies inched up to 10.6% from 10%.
The decline is being led by the northeast of England, where 19.3% of stores are empty. This is followed by Wales (19.1%) and the Northwest (17.7%) and the Southeast (12.7%). Greater London was the least hit, but still rose from 8.9% to 10.7% over the year.
With the current business rates holiday set to end in June, the BRC said the continuing review must result in a permanent downwards shift in costs if remaining stores and jobs were to be better protected.
BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “After a third national lockdown, it is no surprise that the vacancy rate has continued to soar. The forced closure of thousands of shops during the first quarter of 2021 has exacerbated already difficult conditions for the retail industry”.
She added: ”With full business rates relief and the moratorium on aggressive debt enforcement ending in England this summer, many stores may never reopen”.
Lucy Stainton, director at the Local Data Company, added: “We have not yet seen the true impact of this third lockdown. A number of household names have announced further store closures or are disappearing from our high streets entirely, showing how challenged physical retail continues to be”.
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