Ghost town league table: where are the empty shops?
So where are the empty high streets, and why?
The ghost towns
The Local Data Company's latest Shop Vacancy report found that the biggest problems are in the Midlands and the North, where all of the top ten emptiest large shopping areas are based. Meanwhile seven in ten of the high streets with the fewest empty shops are in the South.
Of the large centres, a number have almost one in three shops standing empty. Stockport is the emptiest town centre, where 27.7% shops are empty - an increase of 3.5% from this time last year. Blackpool and Grimsby are not much better off, with rates of 17.5% and increases of around 1% each.
Of the medium-sized centres, Dudley takes the top spot with a 29.4% vacancy rate. Alarmingly this has risen 16.1% in a year. Other ghost towns featuring high on the list are West Bromwich with a vacancy rate of 28.3% and a rise of 4% and Hartlepool with a vacancy rate of 27.9% and a rise of 4.9%.
But it's in the smaller towns where clearly the end is nigh for some streets. In Leigh Park some 36.4% of shops are empty. And although that has fallen 0.3% it hardy constitutes a turnaround. Likewise Margate has a vacancy rate of 36.1%, which is down 1.3%. Perhaps most worryingly Wandsworth is at 31.5%, which is up 9.6% from this time last year.
And things aren't likely to change for the better any time soon. The British Property Federation said: "The short and medium view of this report is that this is unlikely to improve significantly due to the current economic climate, the rise of alternative sales channels and the number of shops the country has."
Death of the high street
In many of these areas, clearly the future will not be as a shopping centre. Shopping guru Mary Portas has been criticised for voicing this belief, but she is not alone. Take Wandsworth, for instance, houses are in massive demand in the area, while shops are dying. It doesn't take a genius to work out that developers are going to spot the opportunity at some stage and we will see homes and offices spring up in place of the shops.
And while we can weep and wail at the death of the high street, we need to bear two things in mind. The first is that it's an inevitable consequence of modern society. It is cheaper and easier to shop online or in supermarkets, so the bargain-hunters have departed. If you want to bring the car, it's far easier to travel to an out of town mall now that councils have made the cost of parking in town prohibitive, so the convenience seekers have left.
The only people shopping in the area are those with a strong sense of loyalty, those without a car, and those who think of it as a leisure interest rather than a dull necessity. Once you render a third of the shops empty, it's less of a fun day out meeting people, and more of a wander around a depressing, boarded up ghost town, so they aren't going to hang around for long either.
The second is that the death of the high street could be the answer to our property nightmares. If we can redevelop these desolate areas, there's a chance that we can build the housing we need in order to make homes more affordable to first time buyers - without bulldozing the countryside.
But what do you think? Is your high street dying? Who is to blame? Let us know in the comments.
The emptiest large shopping centres
The most occupied large centres
The emptiest medium-sized shopping centres
2. West Bromwich
The most occupied medium-sized centres
1= Clapham Junction
The emptiest small shopping centres
1. Leigh Park
5= North Cheam
The most occupied small centres
3= All Saints
3= West Bridgford