Belfast Telegraph

1 in 3 shops empty in parts of UK

One in three shops are empty in some parts of the country after an increase in the gap between the best and worst performing towns, a new report has revealed.

Nationally, one in seven shops have remained vacant over the past year and there is unlikely to be a significant improvement because of the current economic climate, said the Local Data company.

The research group's study of 1,000 towns and cities found that the three-fold increase in vacancy rates since 2007 had stopped, but some retail centres had one in three shops closed, while others remained at pre-recession levels.

Southern areas of the UK had vacancy levels at or below 1%, while the Midlands and North ranged from 13% to 16%, also having the top 10 worst-performing large centres, including Stockport, Blackpool, Grimsby and Stockton-on-Tees (all over 27%).

The best performing large centres were Bromley in Kent, Camden in London, Harrogate, St Albans, York and Kingston upon Thames (all below 1%).

The highest vacancy rates in medium-sized centres were in Dudley (29%), West Bromwich (28%), Hartlepool and Dewsbury (both over 27%), while the lowest were in Falmouth in Cornwall, Walthamstow and Clapham Junction in London and Cirencester, Cotswolds (all 6.6%).

Matthew Hopkinson, director at the Local Data Company, said: "The stark reality is that Great Britain has too many shops in the wrong locations and of the wrong size. 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."

Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation, said: "Many of the high streets and town centres are in a critical, but stable condition. Their recovery is not just going to happen, but will need nursing. It will require investment from our sector, and the confidence that goes with a local authority that has leadership, a clear vision, and a willingness to plan and manage their retail environment.

"We must also accept that some secondary retail units are no longer viable and plan their transition to other uses. Simply hurting successful retailing to level the playing field is not the solution. We must find new ways to get people on to our high streets and in our local shops."

Retail marketing consultant Mary Portas has been appointed by the Government to lead an independent review into the future of the High Street.