Big north south divide in empty retail units

Melody Chinese restaurant in Commercial Road, Portsmouth

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ALMOST one in five shops in England’s northern towns and cities are empty, compared with just one in 10 in the south, a report said today.

Shop vacancies across the country stood at 13.3 per cent at the end of last year, down from a February 2012 peak of 14.6 per cent, according to the report by The Local Data Company (LDC) which has revealed the regional divide.

The worst regional area is the north east, with a shop vacancy rate of 18.8 per cent in the second half of 2014, a fall of 0.3 per cent on a year ago.

The best region is London, with a vacancy rate of 8.7 per cent after a fall of 0.4 per cent.

It was also found that 20 per cent of all shops it tracked had been vacant for more than three years, which amounts to almost 10,000 outlets.

LDC director Matthew Hopkinson said: ‘This is the equivalent of five Manchesters lying empty.’

In terms of shop vacancies since 2008 the north west has led the country but has now been edged out by the north east.

The top 10 worst town centres for vacant retail and leisure space contain five in the West Midlands, four in the north west and one in the north east.

Greater London and the south east have six centres in the best top 10.

The top three are Debden, in Essex, which boasts no vacancies, as does Highgate in London, while Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire has a 0.9 per cent rate.

Mr Hopkinson added: ‘At a regional level the polarisation between the north and the south is as wide as ever with London’s vacancy rate being less than half that of the northern regions.’

Tesco is closing 43 stores while Morrisons is shutting 10 as a response to losses incurred during the price war.

‘While the numbers announced to date are small beer to the totals,’ said Mr Hopkinson, ‘the significance lies with the fact that whilst traditional shops have been closing it has been the supermarkets and convenience stores that have been expanding significantly which has kept the occupancy rates balanced.

‘The question as to who will occupy these newly vacant stores as well as those which have been empty for a while is a very difficult one to answer positively.’