Fewer vacant shops give rare fillip to high street

Vacancy rates fell from 10.2 per cent in April to 9.8 per cent in July

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The Independent Online

Online shopping continues to hurt high streets as fewer shoppers venture out, but there was some optimism as fewer shops were empty last month than at any time in the last four years, according to new data.

Total footfall dropped 1.1 per cent in July, with shopping centres hardest hit – down 2.5 per cent – according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and Springboard.

High streets also saw a fall of 2.2 per cent, but retail park visitors increased by an impressive 3.1 per cent

Helen Dickinson, director general of the BRC, explained: “The continued popularity of retail parks will cheer retailers who have invested in these locations – a footfall increase of 3.1 per cent is the highest we’ve seen since May 2014.”

The research found that vacancy rates – or the proportion of empty shops on high streets – had fallen from 10.2 per cent in April to 9.8 per cent in July, taking it to the lowest level since data was first collected in July 2011.

Ms Dickinson added: “The dip below 10 per cent for the first time may be indicative of successful attempts to reshape high streets in some locations.

“The clear note of caution though can be found in the footfall figures. No matter how successful high streets are in reinventing themselves, if they can’t deliver increased footfall we could easily see vacancy rates climbing again.

“It’s worth noting that the footfall decline has slowed this month, but it still has a way to go.”

Some parts of the country fared better than others, although London was the only area where footfall actually increased, up 0.4 per cent in July compared with a year ago.

Wales and Northern Ireland suffered the biggest falls, down 4.4 per cent and 4.5 per cent respectively, while in North England and Yorkshire it fell 3 per cent.

Retail parks appear to have performed better than high street and shopping centre rivals because shoppers are far keener to travel there to collect online orders, thanks to the rise of click and collect.

The Government is being pressured to force councils to make it easier for shoppers to park on many high streets across the UK, while there continues to be calls to reform the business rates system, which many retailers have warned is crippling the high street.