The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has called for urgent action after a study of the high street showed above average shop vacancy shop rates still plaguing parts of the country.
A report by the Local Data Company showed the UK’s empty shop rate stabilised at 14.3% during the second half of last year, but revealed average retail vacancies in the Midlands and the North are nearly double the UK average.
Among the worst performers was Stockport, with a vacancy rate of more than 30%, while Nottingham, Wolverhampton, Grimsby and Blackpool were at over 25%.
According to the data, the best performing town centres in 2011 were mainly in the south and west and included Exeter, Kingston, Camden and Cambridge. Exceptions were York and Harrogate which boast relatively low vacancy rates below 10%.
St Albans topped the list of best performers at 8.2%.
The survey, which looked at 700 town centres, casts a bleak shadow for the year ahead after identifying a trend in consumer spend moving away from the high street. It foreasted a rise in vacancy rates for 2012.
British Retail Consortium director general, Stephen Robertson, said: “Long-term plans for reviving our high streets are good but real damage is being done now and needs to be addressed now.
“The scale of retail failures since Christmas and number of shops standing empty show the effects of high costs and weak demand on retail businesses and the people and places that rely on them.
“Recommendations on town centre management, investment and access which have come from the BRC and the Portas review can help but they are not enough.
“The Government should be keeping down the cost pressures it is responsible for. Most urgently, it should reduce the eye-watering 5.6% business rates increase it plans to impose in April.”
The Local Data Company report cited weak consumer confidence, rising unemployment, continued growth in online sales and a significant number of retail leases ending as contributing factors to the forecast that shop vacancy rates would rise again in the year ahead.