Shop vacancy rates lowest since 2010

Shop vacancy rates in September fell to their lowest level since April 2010 with no region in the UK reporting an increase in the number of empty shops.

The latest figures from the Local Data Company showed that the UK’s overall shop vacancy rate for September was down 0.1 per cent from August at 12.9 per cent. Overall vacancy rates – including leisure premises – were down by the same amount to 11.6 per cent.

Interestingly, LDC found that no region of the UK saw an increase in vacancy rates. Comparing this September to last, the North of England led the way. The North-East saw a fall of one per cent, the North-West was just behind it at 0.9 per cent, while vacancy rates in Yorkshire and Humberside dropped by 0.8 per cent.

Shopping centre vacancy rates continued their decline, falling by 0.2 per cent to 14.6 per cent compared with August. The East and North-West were worst hit with a fall of 0.5 per cent.

Against last September, the North-West fared worst with a drop of three per cent, followed by the West Midlands at 2.5 per cent.

All regions saw the retail park vacancy rate fall, which LDC said showed the continued strong performance of retailers in these locations.

LDC director Matthew Hopkinson commented: “Clearly it is very good news that vacancy rates are at their lowest level for over five years. Consumers have more money in their pockets as a result of wages being higher than inflation, employment levels are improving and there is greater focus on the living wage as well as zero-hours contracts. This combined with all-time-low oil prices and interest rates makes for an improving retail economy, but not everywhere, as the recent steel works closure in the North-East shows.”

Mr Hopkinson added: “As ever, the devil is in the detail and one has to ask the question, is this real improvement in terms of all the empty shops being reoccupied or is it something else?

“The answer is mixed, in that while we are seeing certain business types expanding, it is not across the board and what the figures show is that over 400 shops (0.1 per cent of the total) last month were removed as a result of change of use, demolition or redevelopment. This is good news, as shows that structural change requires big decisions and regeneration of places through uses other than shops.’’