12,000 independent shops shut this year

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The Independent Online

The scale of the devastation wreaked on high streets by the recession was revealed today as a report suggested the number of empty shops has doubled in some areas.



Vacancies have struck England and Wales with varying degrees of ferocity as northern regions were hit much harder than elsewhere, according to researcher Local Data Company (LDC).

The report indicated that the recession had hit independent stores hardest, with nearly 12,000 shops shut this year, compared with nearly 7,000 chain outlets.

LDC said that the worst performing region was the North, which has seen vacancy rates double since the middle of last year, compared with Wales and the West where empty shop numbers have increased by 25 per cent.

"Just as thriving town centres demonstrate vitality, empty shops lay bare weakness and failure," LDC said.

"Empty shops have a corrosive effect upon the confidence of any area - and their numbers are growing."

The high street has taken a battering in the recession as credit dried up, the weak pound caused stock costs to rise and consumer confidence collapsed.

Woolworths was the most far-reaching firm to shut its doors after falling into administration. More than 800 shops were closed in high streets across the country with the loss of 27,000 workers.

Retailers, including Iceland, Sainsbury's and Tesco have taken on some of its stores, but LDC said about 70 per cent of the shop portfolio remains empty.

The report points to new openings from retailers like Next and the "musical chairs" in the food sector caused by the purchase of Somerfield by Co-op.

It also said there were signs recently that recovery could be on the way.

The firm said official figures showing an increase in sales volumes of 2.9 per cent in June compared to the previous year was "way above expectations and could set the scene for a stronger than expected second half of the year".

"However, this has to be balanced against continued rises in unemployment and therefore less spending power overall," LDC said.

Vacancy rates - the proportion of available properties unoccupied - were highest in the big regional centres in the North and Midlands.

Derby, Liverpool and Leeds were the worst hit, with over 20 per cent of their retail capacity vacant.

LDC said vacancy rates in England and Wales have risen from just over 4 per cent in the middle of last year, to nearly 12 per cent by the end of June.

"The damage is spread across the country and affects all levels of the retail hierarchy from the largest regional centre to the smallest high street," the firm said.

It said the South fared better, with only Croydon and Exeter featuring among the 10 worst town centres. The pair both had vacancy rates of 15.4 per cent and 14.9 per cent respectively.

Central London had a vacancy rate of 12.8 per cent.

Nottingham was seen as one of the best performers, with a rate of just 2.5 per cent.

The report said smaller centres had fared best.

It added that the significant rise in vacancy rates is also attributable to a 50 per cent drop in openings over the last 18 months.

LDC said churn rates - where a property is opened and closed repeatedly - had also increased markedly over the year.

"In a recession, churn tends to be driven more by a failure to trade and this time around has not been an exception," the firm said.

Wakefield saw its churn rate increase by over 700 per cent in six months, double that of the next worse city centre - Wolverhampton - which saw an increase of 387 per cent.

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