One in five shops in North England remains empty, compared with one in 10 in the South, indicates UK-based Local Data Company (LDC), which monitors 3,000 town as well as shopping centres and retail parks.
The average vacancy rate was 13.3% in the second half of 2014, down 0.8% during the same period a year ago, and well below February 2012’s 14.6% peak. The worst affected region was the North East, which had a shop vacancy rate of 18.8% in the second half of 2014. For the previous six years, the worst performing region had been the North West with a shop vacancy rate of 18.6% for the same period. On the other hand, London was the best performing region with a vacancy rate of 8.7%, a drop of 0.4% on the previous year.
“The worst-performing towns all had vacancy rates above 25%, which is still one in four shops lying empty and no sign or improvement,” says LDC director Matthew Hopkinson. “Research also found that 20% of the shops tracked had been empty for more than three years, amounting to almost 10,000 outlets. This is the equivalent of five Manchesters lying empty.”
Despite the obvious north-south divide, LDC believes there’s been considerable improvement overall. “While the numbers announced to date aren’t comparable to the entire scenario, the significance lies in the fact that whilst traditional shops have been closing, supermarkets and convenience stores have been expanding significantly, keeping the occupancy rates balanced. The question as to who will occupy these newly vacant stores as well as those, which have been empty for a while is a very difficult one to answer positively,” states Hopkinson.