Fewer UK shops are standing empty

The percentage of empty shops in town centres has fallen from a record high, according to the British Retail Consortium.

The vacancy rate was 11.1 per cent in July – compared with April’s peak of 11.9 per cent – while footfall was up 0.8 per cent on a year ago as the warmer weather created strong demand for summer food, fashion and outdoor items, said the BRC.

High streets reported the greatest improvement in shopper activity, with growth of 2.3 per cent. This compared with a rise of 0.9 per cent for out-of-town locations and a fall of 2.3 per cent in shopping centres, reports The Guardian.

Diane Wehrle, retail insights director at the BRC’s survey partner, Springboard, said: “It seems that occupiers are starting to return to the high street, suggesting a greater degree of optimism over future trading prospects.”

She said there was a rise in footfall of 1% over the quarter as a whole, which was likely to have contributed to the drop in the vacancy rate.

The survey continues to show sharp regional variations, however, with Northern Ireland’s empty shops rate at 18 per cent – only slightly below April’s figure – and Wales recording a figure of 15.9 per cent, compared with 17.9 per cent in April.

Greater London (7 per cent), the south-east (8.8 per cent) and Scotland and the east of England (both 10.1 per cent) were below the UK average.

The BRC director-general, Helen Dickinson, said the findings continued to paint a mixed picture of the sector and one that reinforced the need for long-term reform of business rates to help town centres.

She added: “We’ve seen some cause for cautious optimism since the start of the year, but the path to recovery remains fragile. Bringing business rates into line with how town centres operate in the 21st century is a surefire way of offering retailers more certainty and scope to invest.”

The BRC recently called for future increases in business rates to be capped at 2 per cent, in place of its previous “unrealistic” demand for the levy to be frozen.