High street shop vacancies hit four year high as one in 10 sit empty

Retail high street Future High Streets Fund

Town centre shop vacancy rates have reached a four-year high of 10.2%, the highest since April 2015, according to new research undertaken by the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

Helen Dickinson OBE, chief executive of the BRC, commented: “With regular reports of shop closures, it may come as no surprise that town centre vacancy rates rose to their highest level in four years. Empty shopfronts, particularly for larger stores, can deter shoppers from an area, decreasing footfall for all those around. This effect can be cyclical, with the long-term decline in footfall pushing up vacancy rates, particularly in poorer areas.”

Once again, the shackles of disproportionate business rates have come in to question, with no structure in place to nurture young businesses which can make high streets a more attractive proposition to visit.

“For many retailers, business rates remain the single biggest tax imposed by the government. They are a levy on physical space that is paid in full regardless of whether a firm is in profit or in loss,” said Dickenson.

“Importantly, they are also borne disproportionately by retailers who represent 5% of the economy yet pay 25% of all business rates. If the government is serious about reversing the decline on our high streets, then reforming the broken business rates system would be an essential first step.”

It’s undoubtedly seen as a “downward spiral” that is buoyed by the sea change of shopping habits, as consumer confidence grows in making purchases online. As a result, a growing number of retailers, as now regularly reported, are seeking to scale down bricks and mortar presence due to high rents, business rates and staffing costs, which are increasingly making them unviable and, most poignantly, unprofitable.