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High street crisis deepens as more shops shuttered for good

Henry Saker-Clark, PA City Reporter

The retail sector’s recent turmoil worsened over the past three months as more shops shuttered in the face of coronavirus restrictions, according to new figures.

The latest BRC-LDC vacancy monitor revealed that 13.7% of all shops were empty during the quarter to the end of December.

Vacancy levels jumped from 13.2% in the previous three-month period, as the monitor reported the tenth consecutive quarter of rising vacancies.

The latest quarter saw shops impacted by lockdown measures across England in November and tighter tiered restrictions in December, before the latest national lockdown.

It was also a period blighted with more major high street casualties, with Topman-owner Arcadia sliding into administration and department store giant Debenhams confirming plans to wind down all its stores for good.

Shopping centres saw a particular surge in shuttered stores, as the vacancy rate jumped to 17.1% from 16.3% in the third quarter.

Watch: Retail sales in 2020 fall at fastest level in 23 years – ONS

High street vacancies increased to 13.7% from 13.3% in the previous period.

Meanwhile, retail parks remained resilient with a vacancy rate of 10% for the past quarter.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), said: “With the country in and out of lockdown, the forced closures of thousands of shops, and consumers reluctant to visit town and city centres, it is unsurprising that the number of shuttered stores continues to rise.

“Over the past two years, one in every 50 outlets has permanently closed and this number will only go up.

“The big increase in vacancy rates during the crucial golden retail quarter, when demand is usually high, serves as a stark reminder of the pandemic’s impact.”

She added that the Government “must urgently extend the business rates relief beyond April”, provide additional support to the hardest hit retailers and extend the lease forfeiture moratorium.

Lucy Stainton, head of retail and strategic partnerships at Local Data Company (LDC), said: “With recent announcements from the likes of Debenhams and Arcadia, the size of the stores coming on to the market will present a real challenge given the likely lack of demand for larger high street units.

“With a limited number of new store openings, structural solutions will need to be found to prevent these vacant units lying empty for two, three, four years or more.

“Looking further out, the increase in availability of space will provide opportunities for new businesses, however we must prepare ourselves for the picture to get worse before it gets better.”

Watch: UK retail sales fell 3.8% in November as lockdown hit stores