Almost 1,000 shops have disappeared in five years from 12 towns awarded Government funding in a scheme to get consumers spending in their local area, figures show.
The "Portas Pilot" town centres have shrunk as empty and failing shops have been taken out of use, the survey for BBC Radio 4's You And Yours found.
The towns - Bedford, Croydon, Dartford, Greater Bedminster, Liskeard, Margate, Market Rasen, Nelson, Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, Stockport, Stockton-on-Tees and Wolverhampton - were awarded a share of the £1.2 million High Street Innovation Fund, launched five years ago, as well as Government support and access to retail guru Mary Portas following her review of the sector.
But the survey carried out by the Local Data Company (LDC) found that in total there had been a net loss of 969 retail units over the five years, a drop of 17% and the equivalent of one shop closing every 22 days.
LDC director Matthew Hopkinson told You And Yours: "This is very common up and down the country.
"Because there are more empty shops in town centres, businesses from the fringes of these towns are relocating into the heart of town centres. This leaves more redundant space on the edge of town centres."
He also thought some councils were changing the use of buildings, or even knocking them down, or focusing the retail offer on a smaller area in the town centre.
Ms Portas said she believed there would be a continued contraction of town centres in the years to come.
She said: "There are areas of the country where people have cottoned on to this. We're spending our money on eating out, socialising and well-being.
"Therefore we should be building the right places and spaces for the future to cater for how people want to live."
Ms Portas told the programme she had hoped her review would highlight "the real issues" facing the UK's town centres, and that Government would have been behind it with policy change.
"That didn't happen. It was a weighted PR campaign which looked like 'Hey, we're doing something' and I hoped it might kick-start something - but it didn't," she said.
A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: "High streets and town centres are at the heart of our local and regional economies, creating jobs, nurturing small businesses and injecting billions of pounds into our economy.
"Following the Portas Review, the previous Government launched the 'Portas Pilots' and provided £3.35 million to 335 high streets via Town Teams.
"The focus now is sharing the learning from successful areas and making sure we support local people in realising the long-term potential of their high streets and town centres."