Britain’s shops start to fill again, says LDC

The Local Data Company (LDC)’s latest report on Britain’s vacancy rates gives an insight into the health of the country’s shopping destinations and how they are changing.

The report, entitled ‘Restructure and Recovery’, analyses 2,179 towns, shopping centres and retail parks visited by LDC in the second half (H2) of 2015.

The study reveals that the number of vacant premises in the top 650 town centres was 24,761 (-399 since H1 2015).The best performing region was London with a vacancy rate of 7.6%, and the worst performing region was the north-east, with a vacancy rate of 16.7%.

Shopping centres had the highest overall vacancy rate at 14.1% (-0.7% since H1 2015), followed by town centres at 11.5% (-0.2% since H1 2015) and retail parks at 6.2% (-0.4% since H1 2015).

LDC director Matthew Hopkinson commented: “2015 was an encouraging year for the overall ‘health’ of our town centres, retail parks and shopping centres.

“There was evidence of recovery as a result of stronger consumer confidence, and early signs of restructuring and regeneration having a positive impact.”

He added that wide improvements in vacancy rates across the country were a result of more shops being filled rather than a reduction in the overall stock.

In part, he said, this is due to the significant expansion in leisure (food and beverage, and entertainment) outlets. Another reason is regeneration and developments reaching completion. Examples in 2015 include Friars Walk in Newport, The Broadway shopping centre in Bradford, Grand Central in Birmingham and East Point Retail Park outside Nottingham.

In addition to these schemes, hundreds of town centres have received government funding for the regeneration of their high streets since 2012, when a number of reports were published on the subject, including the Portas Review and Grimsey Review.

But while high streets and shopping centres have seen solid improvements in their occupancy rates, it is the retail parks that really stand out as the destination of choice for many retailers, with Next being the most expansive occupier for many years on out-of-town parks.

Matthew Hopkinson said: “Retail parks are bigger and more diverse than ever before, with retail and leisure offerings, free parking and better logistical structures for retailers in the world of ‘Total Retail’ – in-store, online, mobile and click and collect.”

He concluded: “For a number of towns and shopping centres, times are still very challenging. Towns such as Dewsbury, Hartlepool, Walsall, Bootle, Bolton, Burslem and Wigan all have one in four shops lying empty.

The north-east, north-west and West Midlands all have significant issues in the number of long-term vacant units, where over 6% of their total stock has been vacant for more than three years – while in Greater London, the number is just above 2%.

“So 2016 has the potential to be another year of improvement – if employment and wages continue to rise, and interest rates and inflation remain low.

“The fact, however, remains that Britain has too many shops, and we continue to build more. Many areas are blighted by this fact, as seen by the thousands of shops that have no prospect of ever being reoccupied. Opportunity knocks for those who know where, what and how this is best done at the micro level.”

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