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Number of empty shops in the UK remains higher than pre-COVID levels

A man peers into a closed down shop, next door to another shop holding a closing down sale, in central London February 27, 2013. Britain's economy contracted by 0.3 percent in the last quarter of 2012 as first thought, keeping alive the danger of a third recession since 2008, although yearly growth was revised up, data showed on Wednesday. REUTERS/Andrew Winning (BRITAIN - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS)
The North East of England has the highest rate of shop vacancies in the UK. Photo: Andrew Winning/Reuters

The number of shuttered shops in the UK edged lower for forth consecutive quarter, but vacancies remain higher than before the pandemic.

A joint report from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and the Local Data Company (LDC) said the UK’s shop vacancy rate was 13.9% in the third quarter of 2022, which was 0.1 percentage points below the second quarter level.

The BRC-LDC vacancy monitor found high street vacancies fell slightly to 13.9% quarter-on-quarter, shopping centre vacancies dropped 0.1 percentage points to 18.8% and retail parks remained the location with the lowest vacancy rates, at 9.7%.

Read more: Christmas: Two-thirds of shoppers cutting back on spending

“The overall shop vacancy rate improved for the fourth consecutive quarter; however, vacancies remain higher than pre-pandemic levels. Some locations are benefitting from a pickup in tourism and a gradual return to offices, but levels of footfall are still below those of 2019,” Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, said.

“This gave some businesses the confidence to start investing, opening new stores around the country, especially in retail parks. But the North-South divide is again laid bare in these figures.

“While the North has seen some of the biggest improvements in openings over the last year, they still have some of the highest vacancy rates in the country, with one in five shops closed in the North East.”

The figures show that London, South East and East of England had the lowest vacancy rates. The highest rates were in the North East, followed by Wales and the West Midlands.

“The costs of operating in many towns and cities remains high and demand will be tested by the fragile economy and falling consumer confidence in the lead up to Christmas. Higher costs are already pushing up prices and the industry faces a government imposed extra £800m business rates bill from April 2023,” Dickinson said.

Read more: UK real pay falls at fastest pace since 2010 financial crisis

"This will force many retailers to make tough decisions about whether to invest in new stores or close existing ones. Government should freeze business rates and reform the broken transitional relief system. This will support investment in communities across the country and help keep prices low for consumers.”

Watch: What is a recession and how do we spot one?