High street vacancies jump to record high

Declining footfall, poor sales and more shop closures set alarm bells ringing

Shop vacancy rates have hit a record high to set "alarm bells ringing" with more stores set to be thrown on the market over the coming weeks with the expected liquidation of Comet, the failed electricals retailer.

Footfall also tumbled in October to reinforce just how challenging trading conditions remain on the high street ahead of the crucial Christmas period, as the five-year consumer downturn shows few signs of abating.

The vacancy rate for UK town centre shops jumped to 11.3 per cent last month from 10.9 per cent in July, according to the British Retail Consortium and Springboard survey, with Northern Ireland having the most empty stores.

Stephen Robertson, the BRC's director general, said: "This new high in empty shop numbers really sets alarm bells ringing. It's the worst vacancy rate since the survey began in July 2011, and confirms that financial challenges for both customers and retailers are far from over."

The dire data comes as Deloitte, the administrator to Comet, plans to close 41 stores by the end of November, unless a buyer can be found for the stricken chain, which seems highly unlikely. The accountancy firm began a "closing down sale" in 27 Comet stores on Saturday.

While big chains, such as John Lewis, Next, Debenhams and Sainsbury's, continue to grow profits, retail sales volumes tumbled by a worse-than expected 0.8 per cent in October, according to the Office for National Statistics.

A worrying 20 per cent of town centre shops in Northern Ireland are now empty, while the figure is 15.1 per cent in Wales and 14.6 per cent in the North and Yorkshire.

The Olympics helped footfall on the high street to inch up by 0.3 per cent in August, but it tumbled by 2.6 per cent last month. Visitors to out-of-town retail parks also fell by 0.5 per cent and by 2.1 per cent to shopping centres in October.

Mr Robertson said: "Many retailers are battling stagnating sales and rising costs, and next year's threatened business rates increase can only make matters worse. If the Government wants to breathe life back into our town centres and ensure the retail industry can play its full role in job creation it needs to freeze rates in 2013."

Business rates have risen by more than 10 per cent in the last two years, and are set to rise by 2.6 per cent in April next year, if they are based on September's retail price index.

However, Mr Robertson pointed out that overall footfall in the UK was only down by 0.4 per cent over the three months to October, an improvement on the 3.3 per cent fall in the previous quarter to May.

Mr Robertson said: "It's a little more cheering to see footfall suffering less than the previous quarter, but shopper numbers were still no better than a year ago. The figures follow a similar pattern to our retail sales monitoring. September's cold snap drew the crowds stocking up on warmer clothing. But, while the Olympics appears to have brought people out on to high streets, that didn't translate into a surge in spending."

This week, the bike retailer Halfords, the maternity specialist Mothercare, and the wine warehouse chain Majestic Wine, as well as the fashion groups New Look, Topshop-owner Arcadia, and French Connection, will update on trading.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Carlton Senior Appointments: Private Banking Manager - Intl Bank - Los Angeles

$200 - $350 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: Managing Producer – Office...

Carlton Senior Appointments: San Fran - Investment Advisor – Ind Advisory Firm

$125 - $225 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: San Fran - Investment Advi...

Sheridan Maine: Commercial Finance Manager

Up to £70,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...

Sheridan Maine: Regulatory Reporting Accountant

Up to £65,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas