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High street vacancy rates: which towns have the most closed shops?

What’s happening to our high streets? New data shows the impact of the recession
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Are high-streets coming to an end? The Local Data Company has released a report detailing empty shops across the country’s high streets. It looks at vacancy rates in town centres, which are standing at around 14.5% across the country – three times what they were in 2008.

In 2008, the year the UK went into recession, average town centre vacancy rates were 5% and have dramatically increased to 14.5%. However, the rate has remained at the same level for nearly 9 months, showing signs the high street is beginning to maintain some balance.

The report also compares town centres in the North and South. While southern regions have an average vacancy rate of less than 11%, town centres in the West Midlands and the North are just under 13% and the average rate in the East Midlands reaches 16%.

There is a north-south divide, too. Each of the top ten worst-performing large centres (that is, town centres with more than 400 shops) are situated in the West Midlands and the North while seven of the top ten best-performing centres are located in the south. Similar statistics can be seen when comparing medium town centres too, with all of the top ten best-performing centres from London and the south and eight of the top ten worst-performing centres in the north. The only anomalies to this were Dartford and Newport, with the former showing an increase to their vacancy rate of 5.3%, taking their rate to 26.3%.

The results from smaller town centres are a little different. While the ten best-performing town centres mainly situated in London and the south east, the ten worst-performing centres do not follow the same pattern with 5 town centres from London and the south east. Leigh Park in the south east showed the worst vacancy rate of not only the small town centres but of the entire data set at 36.4%. On the other end of the scale is Stanmore in north London, also a small town centre, with a vacancy rate of 0.4%

The results also highlight the differences in performance depending on the size of the centre. While large centres showed an average vacancy rate of nearly 17% at the half year, there is a tremendous variation in the rate. For example, Shepherd’s Bush has a vacancy rate of 6.4% while Stockport has the worst vacancy rate of large centres, with 27.7% of shops standing empty. Oddly, the Department of Communities and Local Government does not recognise Shepherd’s Bush as having a town centre, and therefore it is not included in the data set.

This report suggests that high streets are being less used and are not recovering. The reasons? The state of the economy, the rise of alternative sales channels and the number of shops in the country. This is supported by Liz Peace, Chief Executive of the British Property Federation, who says small shops are not “viable”: “We must find new ways to get people on to our high streets and in our local shops.”

With the growth of online retailers, it is to be seen whether the vacancy rates will continue to stabilise or are yet to increase further.

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