Ever increasing amounts of online shopping combined with the recession have led to a "fundamental reshaping" of the UK’s high streets, according to a new study.
As a result, an average of one in eight shops in town centres across the country are now standing empty, a jump of 25% on June last year when vacancy rates stood at 10%.
But the number of empty stores climbs to a huge one in five in Kent, the Midlands and the North East, with Margate in Kent being the worst affected. A huge 27% of its stores now stand empty, while vacancy rates have reached 24% in Wolverhampton, the second worst hit. Bradford, Middlesborough and Sheffield have also been hammered.
Liz Pearce, chief executive of the British Property Federation, who revealed the findings at the organisation’s annual Retail Summit, said: "The fact of the matter is that Brits now do a lot more shopping over the web so we’re seeing a fundamental reshaping of high streets."
Because the country will now never "go back to the high streets of yesteryear", the next government will need to balance spending cuts with ideas about how to reinvigorate regions suffering from years of underinvestment, she added.
According to the Local Data Company, which undertook the research, the number of unoccupied town centre shops leapt to 17,880 during the second half of 2009. The figure equates to about 12% of the 149,000 stores in almost 700 locations that were covered by the study.
While optimistic retailers opened more than 25,000 new stores during the period, rising unemployment rates and the prospect of higher taxation to curb the country’s national debt suggest that business failure is likely to continue over the year ahead.
Neil Davey is the managing editor of MyCustomer. An experienced business journalist and editor, Neil has worked on a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites over the past 20 years, including Internet Works, CXO magazine and Business Management. He joined MyCustomer in 2007.