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Vacancy rates reach all time high

Vacancy rates are at record highs according to figures published today – but footfall suggests consumers are returning to the streets.

Town centres are now coping with an average 11.9% vacancy rate throughout the UK according to figures published by the British Retail Consortium and Springboard. This is the highest rate since the survey began in July 2011.

The South West saw the biggest increase in rates, up from 9.6% in January to 14% in April. London and the South East also saw large climbs.

In March, Drapers reported that Greater London and parts of the South were likely to see rises as a result of tougher competition in the form of the two Westfield developments as well as a hangover from footfall declines last year.

In the three months to April, footfall fell 2.3%. But the national footfall average did edge up 1% in April compared with the same month last year – the strongest performance since December 2011 as warmer weather drew shoppers back to the streets.

High streets saw the strongest rise of 3.4%, while out of town destinations grew a marginal 0.3%. However shopping centres fell 3% - the category’s worst performance since January.

Director general of the BRC Helen Dickinson said: “It’s a major concern that the vacancy rate has reached a record high, driven by increases in almost every part of the UK, with some regions like the South West seeing a significant leap in empty shop numbers. 

“With high streets topping the agenda for many now, there’s a real opportunity here to seize the moment and stem the tide of further closures.  Comparatively small steps to tackle deep-rooted issues such as parking, accessibility and rising business costs could make a huge difference to the health of town centres.

Diane Wehrle, retail insights director at Springboard, said: “The improved weather made a significant difference to footfall performance across the UK in April. The trading difficulties recorded in March – partly a product of the unseasonably cold weather – have been reflected in a decline in town centre occupancy levels.”

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