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Shop vacancy falls to lowest level since 2009
A drop in vacancy rates could be promising news for the high street

Britain’s shop vacancy in January decreased to its lowest mark in six years to 12.5 per cent, a study shows.

The shopping centre vacancy rate dropped by 0.4 per cent in January 2016 when compared to the previous month, according to a study by the Local Data Company.

Wales (-1.0 per cent) and Greater London (-0.8 per cent) saw the biggest drops in vacancy rate across the UK nations and regions.

Compared to January 2015, Wales has seen the highest increase in vacancy rate over the 12-month period. Wales’ shopping centre vacancy rate increased by 2.2 per cent in the 12 months to January 2016.

The region with the best-performing retail parks is Yorkshire and the Humber, which saw a 0.9 per cent drop in January when compared to December.

Persistent vacancy calculates the number of units vacant for longer than three years. A unit that has remained vacant for over the three years is unlikely to be reoccupied.

The North East is the only region to see a change in its persistent vacancy rate in the last month, with a 0.1 per cent drop when compared to December 2015.

The region with the highest percentage of persistently vacant units is the North East. The North of England, Scotland and Wales, all have persistent vacancy rates above the GB average (4.5 per cent). 

The number of long-term (vacant for 3+ years) shops increased from 9,796 at the end of 2014 to 12,350 in January 2016 (+26 per cent).

Matthew Hopkinson, director at LDC says that the numbers are encouraging due to January having seen a net increase in the occupation of shops, rather than the removal of empty shops from the overall stock.

'The GB 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,' he adds. 

The fact that interest rates do not look like they will increase in 2016, oil prices are set to remain low for the very long term and that 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, Hopkinson notes.

He also points out an area of concern as being the number of units that have been vacant for more than three years increasing by 26 per cent in the last year to over 12,000 which equates to 'six Manchesters lying empty'. 

'Nearly 5 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.'

Further reading on shop vacancy

See also: Rates lowest in 300 years

Related topics: Business premises

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