Vacancy rates on the fall

Shop vacancy rates are at their lowest levels for six years, new figures from the Local Data Company reveals—but long-term vacancies remain stubbornly high.

The company said vacancy levels stood at 12.5% in January—the lowest since December 2009, and well down on peak levels of 14.6% in 2012. Leisure vacancies were lower at 8.2% than retail vacancies at 12.5%.

Across the country, Wales and Greater London saw the biggest drops. Persistent vacancies remain high, though, with sites empty for over three years totalling 12,350, up from 9,796 at the end of 2014. The bulk of these are in the north of England, emphasising the north-south divide that has been prominent in recent years.

Local Data Company director Matthew Hopkinson said: “These are encouraging numbers for the very reason that January has seen a net increase in the occupation of shops rather than the removal of empty shops from the overall stock.”

But he added: “The area of concern is that the number of units that have been vacant for more than three years has increased by 26% in the last year… So whilst we have seen some positive signs at the start of 2016 for the high street, we cannot shy away from the vast numbers of empty shops that are never likely to be reoccupied again.”