UK vacant store unit numbers fall again - BRC
Improving, but will numbers ever get back to pre-pandemic levels? That’s the news on store vacancy levels across the UK which improved, albeit very slightly, again in the first three month of 2022.
But empty store numbers are still significantly above pre-Covid levels and could well rise again with “uncertainty ahead” as inflation and costs rocket.
During the third lockdown early last year, 14.5% of stores in Britain lay empty, according to data compiled by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and the Local Data Company.
That figure has now dipped to 14.1% after falling to 14.4% towards the end of 2021, according to the latest report. The closures include high streets, shopping centres and retail parks. Rates before the coronavirus outbreak began stood at about 12%.
The BRC noted it’s the first time since the spring 2016 that the overall vacancy rate has fallen in consecutive quarters and is the biggest quarter-on-quarter decline since the consortium started collecting the data in 2015.
By sector, vacancy rates on high streets fell to 14.1%, having peaked at 14.5% in the second quarter of last year.
Shopping centres, which have always had a greater proportion of empty units than elsewhere, fell to 19% from 19.1% in December and 19.4% last summer. Just over two years ago, about 14% of the retail units in Britain’s malls were empty.
Retail parks remain the most constantly popular destination for retailers, with an average vacancy rate of 10.6%, down from 11.5% a year ago.
By region, the biggest fall in vacancy rates came in the northeast, but at 18.8% it still has the highest proportion of boarded-up stores in the country. In London, the vacancy rate nudged up to 11.1% from 11%, although it remains the region with the smallest proportion of empty units.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, said the improvement was because “the economy had fully reopened, with more city workers back in the office and more tourists out on the streets”.
But the BRC noted that there was “uncertainty ahead”, given the surging cost of living and the war in Ukraine, which have contributed to depressing consumer confidence to its lowest level since the global financial crisis in 2008.
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