Last year saw the gap between the North and the South widen, with the North West identified as the worst region for vacancy rates, according to the Local Data Company.
By the end of the year the North West had 17.3% of all retail and leisure venues lying empty, more than five percentage points above the national average of 12.2%. Of the top 10 worst town centres – all of which are above 25% - seven are in the North East or North West.
This compares with the top 10 cetnres, of which six are in Greater London. The South West, East Midlands and London saw the greatest improvement in rates, with the number of empty units dropping by 0.6%, 0.58% and 0.44% respectively.
Overall vacancy rates have improved on 2012, reaching below 13.9% in December, the first time to dip below 14% since July 2010.
Retail parks fared best, with vacancy rates of 8.9%, followed by small towns at 9%. Large towns or cities improved, although rates were still relatively high at 13.4%. Shopping centres continued to have the highest vacancy rate average at 15.4%, a marginal improvement of -0.17% on 2012.
LDC’s data also suggests that shopping centres and retail parks are having a greater impact on nearby towns, such as Birmingham, where the vacancy rate in the Bullring development is just 2.7%, compared with 19.8% in the city’s high streets.
LDC director Matthew Hopkinson described the year as “pivotal for our town centres”.
“It showed stabilisation of vacancy rates at a national level and saw the lowest vacancy rate recorded since mid-2010. Along with other key indicators such as house prices, GDP and unemployment you would not be wrong to identify 2013 as the year that the UK’s economic recovery began.”
He added: “The data shows the best and the worst in vacancy rates but 2013 clearly showed that physical stores have a key role to play in engaging with your customers. The meteoric rise in ‘click & collect’ is but one example of the importance of the relationship between ‘bricks and clicks’ along with the increasing significance of convenience shopping… It is clear that Great Britain has too many shops, over 50,000 lie empty, and that technology will drive further consolidation. The speed of change is quickening and it is therefore more important than ever before to know which locations are thriving, surviving or dying.”