A closed sign hangs on a shop door obstructed by rubble in Christchurch on September 5, 2010 following a powerful 7.0 magnitude earthquake the previous day. A state of emergency was declared in New Zealand's second largest city as roads were blocked, electricity supplies were cut, several bridges were down and roads were littered with glass from broken windows. AFP PHOTO / Barnaby CARTER (Photo credit should read BARNABY CARTER/AFP/Getty Images)

UK shop vacancies continued to climb higher during the first quarter of the year, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has reported.

In the first quarter of 2021, the overall GB vacancy rate increased to 14.1%, from 13.7% in Q4 2020, the BRC reported.

Commenting on the situation, Helen Dickinson OBE, chief executive of the BRC, said: “After a third national lockdown, it is no surprise that the vacancy rate has continued to soar.

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“The forced closure of thousands of shops during the first quarter of 2021 has exacerbated already difficult conditions for the retail industry.

“We estimate there are around 5,000 fewer stores since the start of the pandemic, meaning 1 in 7 shops now lie empty.

“There is significant regional disparity in vacancies, with the North of England showing a greater increase compared with other parts of the country.

“Shopping centres, many of which have been forced to close for a large portion of this pandemic, have fared worse than other retail locations, with over 12% of units lying empty for a year or more.

“With full business rates relief and the moratorium on aggressive debt enforcement ending in England this summer, many stores may never reopen.

“The Government must ensure the ongoing business rates review leads to reform of the broken system and permanently reduces the cost burden which is leading to unnecessary stores closures and job losses.

“The devolved nations have already agreed to extend the business rates holiday until 2022 and England should consider following suit.

“The number of vacant units has continued to increase in the first three months of this year across the country, despite much of the market being temporarily closed for during the third lockdown.

“With this in mind, and despite these percentages increasing significantly, we would argue that we have not yet seen the true impact of this third lockdown and this will only be obvious once the market has had the chance to re-open fully.

“We have seen a number of household names announcing further store closures or indeed, disappearing from our high streets entirely showing how challenged physical retail continues to be.”

This comes after the BRC has campaigned fiercely for more government support for shops as the effects of the pandemic continue. Read more below:

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