Quarter of high streets 'failing'

Almost a quarter of high streets in the UK are failing, it was reported today, as a gap grows between the best and worst town centres.

Empty shops have triggered a downward spiral on high streets in 83 out of 365 towns, according to a survey by property consultants Colliers International.

Towns on the list include Bootle in Merseyside, Dunstable in Bedfordshire, and Walsall in the West Midlands.

Elsewhere, another 42 of the retail centres surveyed are deemed to be degenerating, such as Grimsby in Lincolnshire, Dartford in Kent, and London's Walworth Road, while more than a third are categorised as stable, the Financial Times said.

The high street is one of the most evident victims of a consumer spending squeeze triggered by high inflation and muted wage growth, as well as fears over the economic recovery.

The survey, which is due to be published next week, comes after official figures revealed an unexpected 1.4% plunge in retail sales volumes in May.

Paul Moody, head of retail agency at Colliers, told the FT: "In most cases it is worse in the towns we monitored than it was last year.

"Retailers are migrating to the best-performing areas. Once you have rents falling and voids starting to grow in certain towns, it becomes a downward spiral."

Colliers warned these "terminal towns" would struggle to find public or private finance to spur future growth and were becoming dominated by pound stores and fast-food chains.

Shoppers are being drawn to out-of-town shopping centres and supermarkets in pursuit of a more affordable deal, Colliers found.

More than a quarter of towns are "thriving", Colliers said, including market towns with loyal catchments or those with buoyant tourist demand, such as Brighton, Stratford-upon-Avon and Harrogate.

But just 3% are designated as "improving", including Barnsley, Ealing and Maidenhead, suggesting the number of thriving towns is unlikely to grow.

Retail rents increased in a greater proportion of towns than in the previous survey - 13% in 2010 compared with 9% in 2009.

Colliers' analysis is based on historic and future indicators, including retail rents and vacancies, population growth or decline and employment prospects.

The number of vacant stores has fallen from 11.4% to 9.7%, according to Colliers, but the figure was skewed by quick-fix solutions such as pop-up shops and short-term lettings.