One in seven UK shops are empty

There are roughly 5,000 less stores open since the start of the pandemic, meaning one in seven shops are now empty, according to research from the British Retail Consortium (BRC.)

The UK shop vacancy rate has increased to 14.1 per cent in the first quarter of the year from 13.7 per cent in the final months of 2020.

The number of empty shops was 1.9 per cent higher than the same period last year, marking three consecutive years of rising vacancy rates.

All shopping locations saw an increase in vacancies in the first part of the year, with vacant stores in shopping centres increasing by 18.4 per cent, from 17.1 per cent in the final quarter of 2020.

High Street vacancies increased to 14.1 per cent in quarter one, up from 13.7 per cent at the end of last year.

Retail Park vacancies increased slightly to 10.6 per cent in the same period, up from 10 per cent in quarter four of 2020.

“After a third national lockdown, it is no surprise that the vacancy rate has continued to soar,” said Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC. “The forced closure of thousands of shops during the first quarter of 2021 has exacerbated already difficult conditions for the retail industry.”

Dickinson warned that there is significant regional disparity in vacancies, with the North of England showing a higher rate compared to other parts of the country.

“Shopping centres, many of which have been forced to close for a large portion of this pandemic, have fared worse than other retail locations, with over 12 per cent of units lying empty for a year or more,” added the chief exec. “With full business rates relief and the moratorium on aggressive debt enforcement ending in England this summer, many stores may never reopen.”

Lucy Stainton, director at Local Data Company, which also worked on the research, said: “The number of vacant units has continued to increase in the first three months of this year across the country, despite much of the market being temporarily closed for during the 3rd lockdown."

"With this in mind, and despite these percentages increasing significantly, we would argue that we have not yet seen the true impact of this third lockdown and this will only be obvious once the market has had the chance to re-open fully. We have seen a number of household names announcing further store closures or indeed, disappearing from our high streets entirely showing how challenged physical retail continues to be.”

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