Shop vacancy rate continues to rise

SHOP vacancy levels in the East of England remain below the national average but the number of empty premises in the region has continued to rise, according to new figures.

Town centre vacancy rates across the country have risen from an average of just above 12% at the start of the year to 13%, the latest Shop Vacancy Report from The Local Data Company (LDC) reveals.

Within the East of England, Ipswich is ranked as the ninth most badly hit centre, one place behind Cambridge, with a vacancy rate of 11.9% – an increase of 2.66 percentage points compared with the last survey six months ago.

Bury St Edmunds is in 13th place on 10.3%, having seen an increase of just 0.05% in the past six months, and Colchester is 14th on 10.2%, 0.33% up on the last survey.

None of the region’s major retail centres feature among the top 25 worst-hit locations in the UK, a list headed by Blackpool with a vacancy rate of 28.93%.

The list reveals a sharp north-south divide with only three major centres from the southern half of England making the list, of which only one is from the East – Watford, in 17th place with a rate of 16.70%.

Among medium-sized centres the divide is less pronounced, with eight locations from the south among the worst-hit including three from the East – Dunstable in 15th place with a rate of 20.32%, Letchworth 18th on 19.86% and Harlow 19th on 19.75%.

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Of the East of England’s other major centres, Norwich ranks 18th on the regional list with a rate of 8.4% and Peterborough 17th on 9.4% thanks to an improvement of 0.79% in the past six months, one of only three locations in the region to record a reduction in vacancy levels.

Nationally, of the 63 large centres studied across the UK, 10 have seen an improvement over the last six months while among the 400 medium-sized centres, 73 - all but one of them in the southern half of the country - have witnessed a fall in vacancy levels.

The study concludes: “This data shows vacancy increasing in a majority of centres and, more worryingly, particularly in those centres where the budget and job cuts proposed for the public sector will begin to bite.”

Matthew Hopkinson, LDC business development director, said: “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.”