Fewer shops stand empty
Monday 19th August 2013, 12:21AM BST.
The percentage of empty shops in the UK has fallen back from a record high, helped by the benefit of warmer weather on high street footfall.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said its town centre vacancy rate stood at 11.1% in July – lower than April’s peak of 11.9% – while footfall was up 0.8% on a year ago amid strong demand for summer food, fashion and outdoor items.
High streets reported the greatest improvement in shopper activity, with growth of 2.3% outperforming 0.9% for out-of-town locations and a 2.3% fall in shopping centres.
Diane Wehrle, retail insights director at BRC’s survey partner Springboard, said: “It seems that occupiers are starting to return to the high street, suggesting a greater degree of optimism over future trading prospects.”
She said there was an uplift in footfall of 1% over the quarter a whole, which is likely to have contributed to the drop in the vacancy rate.
However the survey continues to show sharp regional variations, with Northern Ireland’s empty shops rate at 18% – only slightly lower than in April – and Wales recording a figure of 15.9%, down from 17.9% in April.
Greater London (7%), the South East (8.8%) and Scotland and the East (both 10.1%) were below the UK average.
BRC director general Helen Dickinson said the findings continued to paint a mixed picture of the sector and one that reinforced the need for long-term reform of business rates to help town centres.
She added: “We’ve seen some cause for cautious optimism since the start of the year, but the path to recovery remains fragile.
“Bringing business rates into line with how town centres operate in the 21st century is a surefire way of offering retailers more certainty and scope to invest.”
The BRC recently called for future increases in business rates to be capped at 2%, in place of its previous “unrealistic” demand for the levy to be frozen.