The UK’s empty shop crisis


Why the gap between best and worst performing towns is widening.

Shop vacancy rates stabilised in the first half of 2011, but the gap between the best and worst performing towns continues to widen. Andrew Seymour looks at the numbers that tell a tale of the british high street.

With 14.5% of shops in the UK standing vacant, it’s little wonder the government recently appointed Mary Portas to conduct a review into the future of the country’s shopping districts.

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She of all people will be under no illusions about the size of the task ahead, although news that shop vacancy rates as a whole are actually stabilising provides hope that the market has already hit rock bottom.

Every year since 2007 the market has witnessed a threefold increase in vacancy rates, but that has slowed down in 2011, suggesting there is at last a reason to be optimistic.

On the other hand, the most seriously hit locations are facing one in three shops standing empty, illustrating the work that local authorities, in particular, need to do to revive their local shopping centres.

In its latest shop vacancy report, titled The good, the bad and the (very) ugly, the Local Data Company concludes that in the short to medium term, things are unlikely to improve significantly due to the current economic climate, the rise of alternative sales channels and the number of shops the country has.

It also says a north-south divide is reinforced when breaking down the figures on a regional level.

All the southern regions have an average vacancy at or below 11%, while in the other half of the country the rate spans from just less than 13% in the East Midlands to 16% in the Northwest.

The top 10 worst-performing large centres (those with 400+ shops) are in the West Midlands and the North while seven out of the top 10 best large centres are in the South. Amongst the medium-sized centres (between 200 and 399 shops), the situation is the same. The top 10 centres are all in the South while eight out of the 10 worst-performing centres are in the North.

The only exceptions are Dartford, with a vacancy rate of 26.3%, and Newport in South Wales with 26%.

The best performing medium-sized centres run from Sevenoaks with a vacancy rate below 5% to Falmouth at 6.6%. As far as the smaller centres (between 50 and 199 shops) are concerned, the best performers can be found in London and the South East. Margate (36% vacancy) and Wandsworth (31%) appear to break the pattern, although further down the list the picture becomes more familiar with the likes of Runcorn, Corby and Bootle all suffering high vacancy rates.

Matthew Hopkinson, director at the Local Data Company, says the high street continues to be fragile in certain parts of the country. “The stark reality is that Great Britain has too many shops in the wrong locations and of the wrong size,” he says. “The diversity of shop vacancy rates is clear evidence that a local approach is required that ties in with consumer needs and the realities of modern retailing. The market still has significant corrections ahead and the impact of these will vary significantly according to location.”


This article was taken from the November issue of Professional Jeweller magazine. To read the issue online click here



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