Vacancy rates on the UK high street have fallen to their lowest level in four years, according to new figures published today.
The Local Data Company, which monitors more than 2,000 town centres, shopping centres and retail parks, said the average rate of empty shops was 13.9% at the end of December, which compares to a peak in 2012 of 14.6%.
It described 2013 as a “pivotal year” and the figures as proof that the recovery was underway.
However, with more than 50,000 empty shops in town centres the report also revealed a growing north-south divide, with high streets in the north west and north east reporting an average 17% vacancy rate in 2013.
Of the top 10 worst town centres for vacant retail and leisure premises, all of which were above 25%, seven were in the north east or north west.
The data also shows what it claims is the increasing impact of large shopping centres and retail parks on towns that neighbour them.
Analysis of 12 so-called ‘mega malls’ showed that vacancy rates in the ‘secondary towns’ around them were increasing at a much higher rate than those of the malls themselves.
The Bullring in Birmingham’s vacancy rate in 2013 was 2.7% but the Birmingham high street level was 19.8%.
The same trend was evident in London with the level at Westfield London 4.2% and the surrounding areas averaging 9%.
“2013 was a pivotal year for our town centres. It showed stabilisation of vacancy rates at a national level and saw the lowest vacancy rate recorded since mid-2010,” said Matthew Hopkinson, a director at the Local Data Company.
“But what is also clear from LDC’s latest report is that there is a significant and growing divide between the north of the country and the south.
“We are seeing greater concentration of the best retail and leisure destinations in fewer centres.”