Vacancy rate widens to worst in four years

The national town centre vacancy rate was 10.3 per cent in July, a slight increase on the previous quarter's rate of 10.2 per cent, and the highest since January 2015.

This is according to the latest figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and Springboard, which also revealed footfall down by 1.9 per cent in July, compared to the same point last year when it declined by 0.9 per cent – the worst decline for July since 2012.

High Street footfall declined by 2.7 per cent, following from the increase of 0.3 per cent in July last year. Retail park footfall however, increased by 1.2 per cent, compared to a fall of 0.5 last July. But shopping centre footfall was down by 3.1 per cent, following a decline of 3.4 per cent during the same month last year.

BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson argued that if the government wishes to avoid seeing more empty shops in town centres then it must act to relieve some of the pressure bearing down on the High Street.

“Currently, retail accounts for five per cent of the economy, yet pays 10 per cent of all business costs and 25 per cent of all business taxes,” she stated. “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 cornershops in Redcar subsidising banks in central London.”

Diane Wehrle, Springboard’s marketing and insights director, noted that July was a much more challenging month for High Streets and shopping centres than for out of town destinations.

“Some of the 2.7 per cent drop in High Street footfall was a consequence of a strong comparable of 0.3 per cent last year when we had a continuous period of hot sunny weather, but for shopping centres - with the 3.1 per cent drop being as almost as severe as the 3.4 per cent drop in footfall last year - the weather clearly has less impact on footfall than the challenges created by the ongoing structural change in retailing.”

She explained that 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 per cent 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.”

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