UK high street vacancy rate highest since 2014

The latest figures from Springboard show the UK’s retail footfall strengthened for the third consecutive month in August, but vacancies rates are sharply increasing.

Shop vacancies rose in July to 10.8 percent from 9.8 percent in January 2020, which means it is now the highest level since January 2014.

While smaller high streets continued to benefit from home working and local shopping, with footfall in market towns -26.6 percent down on last year in August versus -38.3 percent across all UK high streets, London is suffering the biggest vacancy rate.

Two-thirds of vacancies are in London

Vacancies rose in six out of ten UK geographies but London saw the greatest increase. “With Central London dominating Greater London in terms of footfall volume, this result brings into sharp focus the difficulties faced by large cities in attracting customers back and the impact of this on the bricks and mortar retail landscape,” Diane Wehrle, Springboard Marketing and Insights Director, said in a statement.

In August, UK retail footfall continued to strengthen for the third consecutive month, with a drop of -30.8 percent from last year, as the Government’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme enticed visitors back to UK retail destinations. All three destination types benefited, although retail parks remain a clear winner in the competition for shoppers, with footfall in July just 11.1 percent lower than in 2019.

Despite the growth, the rate of improvement was only around half that in June and July 2020 when non-essential retail stores and hospitality reopened following the lockdown, suggesting that the climb back to pre-COVID footfall levels is going to be a steep one.

It is clear that footfall has only been marginally boosted by the government support initiatives, and the ONS have reported that non-food spending remains lower than in February 2020.

As many continue to work from home and shop locally, smaller high streets have continued to benefit; footfall in market towns was down by -26.6 percent on last year in August versus -38.3 percent across all UK high streets.

Wehrle continued: “The reality of the new normal has already started to bite, with Springboard’s latest vacancy rate data reflecting the widespread store closures announced by large retail and hospitality operators. Representing those stores and outlets that have ceased trading rather than not having yet reopened.”

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