'One in seven' shops empty in 2011
One in seven shops on the UK's high streets stood empty in 2011 and further closures are expected this year as more people shop online and in out-of-town centres.
Town centre vacancy rates stabilised last year at an average of 14.3%, or 48,000 shops, according to a report by the Local Data Company, despite a spate of high-profile retail administrations including Barratts, Jane Norman and The Officers Club.
But while some high streets are still thriving, particularly in the south of England, the report warned many centres are "locked in a spiral of decline".
With 2012 expected to see a further fall in consumer confidence, rising unemployment, the continued growth of supermarkets and the internet and uncertainty in bank lending, it predicts the vacancy rate will rise again.
It said the high street faces "structural issues", with the internet's share of the shopping market having doubled in the past 11 years and out-of-town centres also seeing growth, meaning that "there will be, if not already, too many shops on the high street".
Prime town centre locations have generally remained healthy but secondary centres in outlying areas have been the biggest losers as they struggle to compete with town retail parks and the internet
Stockport was the worst centre with a vacancy rate over 30%, while Nottingham, Grimsby, Stockton-on-Tees, Wolverhampton, Blackburn, Walsall and Blackpool all had more than a quarter of shops empty.
Although York and Harrogate had vacancy rates below 10%, the best performing centres were mainly in the south and west. These included Exeter, Kingston, Camden, Cambridge, Taunton, Salisbury and St Albans, which was the best performer with an 8.2% vacancy rate.
The survey revealed that the squeeze in consumer spending was also hurting shopping malls, with one in five suffering financial difficulties.
Local Government Minister Grant Shapps said: "It is clear that while some high streets are thriving, others face stiff competition from internet shopping and out-of-town shopping centres. That's why we already have responded rapidly to recommendations in Mary Portas's review on the future of high streets and will publish our full response in the spring."