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Britain's Empty-Shop Numbers Edge Lower For First Time Since 2018

The number of shuttered shops in Britain edged lower for the first time in four years, in the final quarter of 2021, providing a glimmer of hope for the country’s beleaguered shopping destinations, according to data published on Friday.

A joint report from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and the Local Data Company (LDC) noted that Britain’s shop vacancy rate was 14.4% in the fourth quarter of 2021 – 0.1 percentage points below their third-quarter level.

The rate was, however, 0.7 percentage points higher than at the same point in 2020.

With the bricks-and-mortar retail sector hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, one in seven shops remains vacant.

Footfall Numbers Drop

The BRC-LDC vacancy monitor found that high-street vacancies fell slightly, to 14.4% (quarter on quarter), shopping centre vacancies dropped by 0.3 percentage points, to 19.1%, and retail park vacancies remained at 11.3%.

The report noted that the lowest vacancy rates were seen in the south of England, where higher disposable income and greater business investment meant that vacant storefronts were more quickly repurposed than they were elsewhere in Britain.

Higher Vacancy Rates

Scotland and the north of England continued to see much higher vacancy rates, with almost one in five shops closed in the north-east of England.

“This is the first real indication that the most significant structural impacts of the pandemic are potentially at their peak for certain regions,” said LDC director Lucy Stainton.

Stainton highlighted that growth in the number of independent businesses was partially offsetting ongoing closures across many retail chains and leisure operators.

Helen Dickinson, CEO of the BRC, said that with hybrid working unlikely to disappear any time soon, it will be difficult for vacancy rates to fully recover.

News by Reuters, edited by Donna Ahern, Checkout. For more retail stories, click here. Click subscribe to sign up for the Checkout print edition.

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