Shop vacancy hits lowest level in six years

The number of empty shops in the UK in January hit its lowest level since 2009 at 12.5 per cent.

This year’s figure compared with 12.4 per cent for December 2009, according to the latest report from the Local Data Company.

But the number of shops that have remained vacant for more than three years has soared by 26 per cent from 9,796 at the end of 2014 to 12,359 in January.

The region with the highest percentage of persistently vacant units was the North-East, and the report highlighted that there was still a north/south divide in terms of vacancy persistence.

Meanwhile, shopping centre vacancy rates also dropped by 0.4 per cent in January, compared with the previous month.

The biggest drops in shopping centre vacancy rates across all regions were in Wales (one per cent) and Greater London (0.8 per cent). The West Midlands was the only English region to see a decrease in its vacancy rate of 0.4 per cent.

Since January 2015, Wales has seen the highest increase in vacancy rates, up 2.2 per cent. This was also the only region to see an increase.

Retail park vacancies also improved with Yorkshire and the Humber seeing the biggest drop at 0.9 per cent from December 2015 to January 2016. However, the North East (0.2 per cent) and Scotland (0.1 per cent) saw an increase in vacancy rates.

Town centre vacancy saw a slight drop of 0.1 per cent in January, but results were varied depending on the region. It dropped in the East Midlands, London, the North-East, North-West, South-East, Wales and the West Midlands. It remained the same in Yorkshire and the Humber, the South-West and the East of England. Scotland was the only region to see an increase.

Town centre vacancies saw an overall drop of 0.4 per cent in the 12 months to January.

Matthew Hopkinson, director at LDC, said: “These are encouraging numbers for the very reason that January has seen a net increase in the occupation of shops rather than the removal of empty shops from the overall stock. The national vacancy rate is also now at a level not seen since December 2009. What is also encouraging is that high vacancy towns such as Newport, Doncaster, Bradford and Blackburn have seen improvements. Conversely, small centres near Liverpool including Old Swan, Everton, Gateacre and Hoole have seen vacancy rates increase.

“The fact that interest rates do not look like they will increase in 2016, oil prices are set to remain low for the long term and employment and incomes are rising, albeit slowly, means good news for retailers as consumers will continue to spend, be it online, in-store or both.

“The area of concern is that the number of units that have been vacant for more than three years has increased by 26 per cent in the last year to over 12,000 which equates to six Manchesters lying empty. Nearly five per cent of Britain’s town and city-centre shops have remained empty for more than three years. So, while we have seen some positive signs at the start of 2016 for the ‘high street’, we cannot shy away from the vast numbers of empty shops that are never likely to be reoccupied again.”