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Vacancy rates reduce as footfall rises

The UK’s shop vacancy rate has reduced yet again, as footfall into high streets and out of town destinations rose last month.

The national town centre vacancy rate for the month was 11.1%, down from 11.9% in April, according to BRC/Springboard data.

This comes as footfall figures improved for the fourth month since the start of the year.

July saw an increase of 0.8% on the same month last year, and up 0.1% on June. High streets saw the greatest rise, up 2.3%, with out of town areas seeing a rise of 0.9%. Shopping centres however continue to see a decline, albeit at a lower rate of 2.3% in July, compared with the 3% drop in June.  

Diane Wehrle, retail insights director at Springboard, said: “For the first time it seems that a longer term improvement in footfall trends might be emerging.  Not only has footfall increased annually for the second month in a row, but the improvement in performance accelerated over the quarter, moving from a decline of 0.7% in May to an increase of 0.1% in June and 0.8% in July.”

Improved weather had “undoubtedly” boosted footfall,but Wehrle said the upwards trend suggested retail was seeing a turn in the corner.

Wehrle said: “It seems that occupiers are starting to return to the high street, suggesting a greater degree of optimism over future trading prospects and lending further support to the proposition the performance of retail locations is stabilising.”

BRC director general Helen Dickinson added: “It’s encouraging to see that the number of empty shops in the UK has fallen marginally since the record high of the previous quarter.  But it’s still a stark statistic, which masks widespread variations - six parts of the UK had above average vacancy rates.

“There’s a little more cause for cheer on the footfall front, with the fourth positive result for high streets since the start of the year driving a decent increase overall.  Retailers responded well to the heatwave and accompanying demand for summer food, fashion and outdoor living items.

“Taken together, these figures paint a mixed picture which further fuels our call this week for long term reform of business rates to help town centres across the UK.  We’ve seen some cause for cautious optimism since the start of the year, but the path to recovery remains fragile.”

Regional breakdown

Two regions in England reported footfall significantly above the UK average - Greater London (4.8%) and the West Midlands (3.2%).

Northern Ireland reported footfall above the UK average, up 3.0% in July. This was an improvement on June’s 5.9% decline and the first rise in footfall since February.

Wales’ footfall was in line with the UK average.  

In terms of vacancy rates, Greater London (7.0%), the South East (8.8%), Scotland (10.1%) and the East (10.1%) were below national average.

Northern Ireland and Wales reported the highest vacancy rates, but slowed from April’s rates. Northern Ireland fell marginally to 18% while Wales fell to 15.9% from 17.9% in April 2013.

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