High Streets hit as shop vacancy rate worst since 2015

A shopper stands in the door of a shop advertising sale discounts on Oxford Street in London on December 13, 2018 less than two weeks before Christmas.Image source, Getty Images

The number of empty shops in town centres is at its highest for four years, industry figures show.

The vacancy rate was 10.3% in July, its highest level since January 2015, according to the British Retail Consortium and Springboard survey.

Footfall also fell by 1.9% in July, the worst July performance for seven years.

Diane Wehrle, Springboard insights director, said July had been "much more challenging" for shopping centres and High Streets than out of town stores.

The survey showed that High Street footfall declined by 2.7% in July, and shopping centre footfall declined by 3.1%.

In contrast, footfall in retail parks increased by 1.2%.

'Enhanced experience'

Ms Wehrle added: "Consumer demand is ever-more polarised between convenience and experience, and the stronger performance of out of town destinations where footfall rose by 1.2% in July reflects the fact that retail parks are successfully bridging the convenience-experience gap.

"They not only offer consumers accessible shopping environments with free parking and easy click and collect opportunities for online purchases, but many also combine this with an enhanced experience that includes coffee shops and casual dining restaurants, and some also have leisure facilities."

The town battling the High Street blues

Chris Vallance, BBC's The World At One

Image caption,
Stockton-on-Tees has invested in its town centre, but still shops keep closing

In a shopping arcade in Stockton-on-Tees, the loudspeakers are playing Empire State of Mind. "Bright lights will inspire you," goes the chorus, but the canned music isn't inspiring all the shoppers.

"It's getting like a ghost town really," one says. "They've made it nice, the area, but the shops are going one by one."

In 2018, data from the Centre for Retail Research found more than 2,500 mostly medium or large retail businesses failed, and the organisation's Joshua Bamfield now expects 2019 to be worse.

Stockton-On-Tees has also faced losses.

"Marks & Spencer, they closed and now Debenhams is going to close," Labour's Nigel Cooke, the borough council cabinet member for regeneration and housing, told Radio 4's World At One.

Stockton's response to High Street closures has been to try to "reinvent" the High Street.

The BRC said there was concern about the rise in empty store fronts.

"If the government wishes to avoid seeing more empty shops in our town centres then they must act to relieve some of the pressure bearing down on the High Street," said BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson.

"Currently, retail accounts for 5% of the economy, yet pays 10% of all business costs and 25% of all business taxes. The rising vacancy figures show this is simply not sustainable.

"We need an immediate freeze in rates, as well as fixing the transitional relief, which leads to corner shops in Redcar subsidising banks in central London."