Empty Shops Figure Reaches New High

Empty shopIn the run up to Christmas, the figures for the number of empty shops in the UK reaches a new high.

The latest Vacancies Monitor published by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) shows that the vacancy rate in the UK is 11.3% in October this year, the highest it’s been since the monitor was established in July 2011.

Regional variations have also been highlighted. In Northern Ireland the vacancy rate is 20%. In Wales 15.1% of the shops are empty and in the north of England, including Yorkshire, that figure is 14.6%

Footfall is also down according to the associated BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor.

Whilst shopping centres saw a 0.1% increase and out-of-town shopping rose by 0.2% the high street saw a fall of 0.9% for the quarter (August – October). Although still negative, this figure is an improvement upon the 3.3% drop in footfall for the previous quarter (May – July).

The hardest-hit regions were the East of England, seeing a 4.1% drop in footfall, the South West, losing 4% of footfall, and Scotland, down by 3.9%

Ironically Northern Ireland, with the most empty shops, saw the greatest increase in visits to (the remaining) shops followed by the West Midlands and Greater London. These were the only three UK regions to see improved footfall over the quarter.

Stephen Robertson, director general of the BRC, said:

“This new high in empty shop numbers really sets alarm bells ringing. Many retailers are battling stagnating sales and rising costs, and next year’s threatened business rates increase can only make matters worse.”

“If the Government wants to breathe life back into our town centres and ensure the retail industry can play its full role in job creation, it needs to freeze rates in 2013.”

Despite Britain’s high streets still struggling, the Government commissioned and received the results of The Portas Review last December. Retail guru Mary Portas looked in-depth at the plight of the high street and came up with a number of recommendations.

Some of the Portas Review suggestions have been put into practice with Nottingham city centre being one example.

The 12 Windows of Christmas Cheer project, a joint venture between Nottingham City Council and the Nottingham Business Improvement District (BID), has seen the windows of 12 empty shops decorated. Whilst not bringing the vacant retail premises back into a trading position, the empty shops which Deputy PM Nick Clegg called a "blight on the local economy" are at least not totally bereft of life.

Nottingham City Councillor Nick McDonald, said of the project::

“Nottingham is the most creative city in the UK. The 12 Windows of Christmas Cheer project is a great way to celebrate that, and celebrate the festive season and Nottingham, by dressing up currently empty window space and creating something a bit special for visitors to our city centre. A big thank you goes to all of the window designers, and of course all the property owners and agents for taking part.”

Online retailers have been blamed for some of the drop in footfall and increase in empty shops with research from one source showing that 88% of those quizzed blaming online shops for the demise of Britain’s high streets.

When asked about which E-tailers might be responsible for the downturn in the high street, Amazon came out in first place with 61% of responses followed by newly re-branded eBay at 28%.

The competitive pricing of online stores was seen as primary reason for the rise of Amazon and eBay and, when asked why their prices were better than the high street 62% of those polled said it was because the E-tail giants "pay less tax".

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