Fewer high street shops shuttered

High streetThe rate of shops standing empty on high streets has declined as cafes and betting shops take the place of retailers, figures show.

They reveal that while the overall vacancy rate of 14.1% remains stable - 0.1% down on last year - there have been contrasting fortunes for different types of shopping areas as well as regions of the country.

High street vacancies in large centres fell to 13.5% from 16.2% last year, while they were down to 11.9% in medium centres (from 15%) and 9.2% in small centres (from 10.6%).

But these improvements have been offset by an increase of empty units in retail parks - hit by high-profile failures such as Comet - from 8.1% to 9.6%, according to the report from the Local Data Company (LDC).

Shopping centres remained the most plagued by unused sites, improving only slightly from 16.2% to 16.1%.

The report also sets out the stark fact that the number of vacant units in the top 650 shopping areas is 22,339, the equivalent of 23 Sheffield city centres.

A spokeswoman said that while there had been a slight improvement on the high street, retail presence had fallen while leisure sites had increased.

LDC director Matthew Hopkinson said: "Restaurants, bars, cafes and even betting shops have come to the rescue as the growth of leisure takes off in our town centres."

Meanwhile a regional divide is illustrated by the fact that 21 of the 25 worst areas are in the North, Midlands or Wales. Of the top 25, 22 are south of the Watford Gap, the report said.

In the North West, one in five shops (20.1%) was vacant, twice the rate in London (9.4%), it found.

The survey analysed more than 1,900 town centres, shopping centres and retail parks over the first half of this year.

West End in Morecambe, Lancashire, had the highest rate of vacancies at 37.1%, while Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire, had the lowest with just 1% of shops empty.

Margate in Kent, chosen as a pilot for retail guru Mary Portas's proposals to boost the high street, had the third highest rate, at 30.8%.

Mr Hopkinson said: "This report clearly shows that whilst the rise of empty shops has stalled it still remains stubbornly high for many towns up and down the country."

He said "click and collect" services launched by major retailers - in which customers order products online and collect them in-store - showed the importance of retailers maintaining the physical presence of shops.