Increase in empty shops is slowing, but VAT rise and public sector cuts expected to exacerbate difficulties for retail

The North and Midlands see more shop vacancies

Only three southern town centres feature in the latest shop vacancy table, sparking concerns over Northern and Midlands town centres.

Blackpool, Bradford and Wolverhampton have been found to have the highest numbers of empty shops. Blackpool has a 30 per cent vacancy rate.

Meanwhile, southern town centres have fared better in the first half of the year, with only Watford, Reading and Bristol featuring in the ‘top 25’.

Overall town centre vacancy rates have risen to 13 per cent at the end of June 2010, but the increase in vacancy rates is slowing down, according to the Local Data Company.

Matthew Hopkinson, business development director at the LDC commented: “Our latest report shows the reality of a slowed but still rising increase in shop vacancy rates across the country. Whilst some centres, particularly Central London and the South East are showing stabilisation or improvement, others in the provinces are not.

“The impact of the VAT increase, public sector cuts and fierce competition within the ‘multi channel’ retail environment make it increasingly hard for shops on our high streets. In light of these new and fast growing ‘off the High Street’ channels, will we ever need these vacant shops again? For those that survive, service, quality of offer and price need to be their values in order to ensure they can thrive.”

Liz Peace, Chief Executive of the British Property Federation, added: “It is encouraging to see High Streets recovering in the South, but that glimmer of positive news does not hide the fact that retail markets elsewhere are struggling, and that consumer confidence is still fragile.

“This data highlights the need for government initiatives to help regional centres, such as proposals for Local Enterprise Partnerships, the £1bn Regional Growth Fund, and its National Insurance holiday for companies hiring new staff, to be implemented quickly and effectively.

“However, filling empty shops will never be easy or quick. Both banks and landlords need to show a proactive approach to managing property, while local authorities have a key role to play in promoting flexibility and innovation in areas suffering from a high number of vacancies.

Of course, the problem is exacerbated by the continued imposition of empty property rates, which has forced landlords to pay money in tax they could have used to make their property more attractive to tenants.”

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