Britain's changing High Street

In many towns traditional High Street shops are being replaced by coffee shops and nail bars, research suggests

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The number of empty shops in Britain is still rising, but High Streets are adapting to changing trends, research commissioned by the BBC has found.

Overall shop vacancies now stand at 14%, up from 10.5% a year ago, say retail analysts the Local Data Company.

But while certain businesses are declining, new ones are springing up offering services not easily available on the internet, such as beauty salons.

The LDC visited 500 towns and cities for the BBC's Inside Out programmes.

Start Quote

The 'death of the High Street' is a frequently reported tragedy. But, to quote Mark Twain, its death has been rather exaggerated”

End Quote Dave Harvey BBC's West of England business correspondent

It found that businesses such as off-licences and travel agents were facing high closure rates.

Overall, the number of empty stores was going up, although at a slower rate than in 2009.

But as vulnerable businesses were disappearing, they were slowly being replaced by service-based retailers offering something that could not be provided online.

In the towns surveyed across England, Scotland and Wales, a total of 2,633 restaurants, cafes and fast-food outlets opened in the first six months of 2010.

Over the same period, 2,145 hairdressing and beauty salons were opened.

Shopping 'key pastime'

"This survey has shown that a significant part of the High Street's issues are not related to the recession," said the LDC's Matthew Hopkinson.

"It is more a reflection of our changing shopping habits. The internet was widely heralded as the death knell for the High Street, but the data shows that shopping in person is still a key pastime for many."

At the same time, however, the growth of discount stores and charity shops suggests that the economic downturn is still having an effect.

Find out more

  • Empty shops research was commissioned by Inside Out - the regional current affairs shows looked at how High Streets are faring
  • It's in conjunction with BBC One's Turn Back Time - final episode screens Tuesday at 2100 GMT

The survey found that in the West Midlands, the number of cut-price stores had gone up by 30%, but every region had seen some kind of increase in such shops except for the Yorkshire and Humberside region and Scotland.

Similarly, the Yorkshire and Humber region was the only area that did not report an increase in the number of charity shops on the High Street.

Yorkshire and Humber, which accounted for 26 of the towns surveyed, had the highest percentage of vacant shops at 18.1%, while the North East, with 18 towns surveyed, had a vacancy rate of 17.9%.

The worst-hit individual town was Altrincham in Cheshire, where 29.6% of shops were empty, with Stockton-on-Tees and Rotherham not far behind.

You can see more on the changing face of the High Street on BBC Inside Out across England on Monday 6 December at 1930 on BBC One.

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