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Shop vacancy rates improve despite reduced footfall

Footfall across the UK was down 0.5% in the three months to July 2014 compared to the same period last year, while shop vacancy rates improved slightly during the quarter, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC)/Springboard Retail Footfall Monitor.

The UK town centre vacancy rate was 10.1% in July, down from 10.6% in April 2014. BRC/Springboard said this was the lowest vacancy rate since its records began in July 2011, but did not provide comparable data.

Footfall rates for July were down 0.6% on the same period in 2013, although Scotland bucked the trend with a 4.4% year-on-year hike.

High streets fared the worst, suffering a 1.7% year-on-year decline in footfall and continuing the downward trend reported in June. Shopping centres saw a 0.5% decline, but this was better than the 1.2% fall experienced in June.

Footfall in out-of-town locations increased 1.7% year-on-year. BRC director general Helen Dickinson said these destinations had performed well because of strong furniture, home accessories and outdoor and garden items sales.

She described the upturn in shop vacancy rates as “heartening”, but warned levels were still unacceptably high. “It is still the case that every tenth shop remains unoccupied,” she said.

“This reinforces the need for a fundamental overhaul of commercial property taxes, which would increase retailers’ confidence about investing in new or existing retail premises and thus help rejuvenate our high streets.”

Springboard retail insights director Diane Wehrle said the improvement in vacancy rates indicated “a growing flexibility and responsiveness of landlords in the face of tough trading conditions, which has increasingly included the introduction pop-up shops and temporary lets”.

Scotland was the only region that showed an increased footfall rate of 4.4%, compared to a UK average of -0.6%, -5.2% in Northern Ireland, and -1.4% in Wales.

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