More than 12,000 shops have stood empty for three years or more

There has been a sharp rise in the number of retail premises in the UK that have been left vacant for three years or more. The overall proportion of empty shops has declined but the increase in long-term vacancies suggests that, once empty, many shops become harder to let.


The figures, from the Local Data Company, show that the proportion of empty shop premises across the UK fell to 12.5% in January, a fall of 0.5% compared to December 2015. This was the lowest level since 2009, the peak of 14.6% having occurred in 2012.


Long-term vacancies, where a shop stands empty for three years or more, were described as “worryingly high” however. They rose from 9,796 at the end of 2014 to 12,350 last month. This represents a huge rise of 26% over the period and means that nearly 5% of all shops within the UK are long-term vacancies.


Local Data Company chief executive Matthew Hopkinson described it as being akin to all the shops of “six Manchester’s” lying empty.


According to data compiled by the Small Business Trends website on small business failures in the US, retail businesses are one of the riskiest start-ups, with up to 80% of new retail clothing stores failing within the first five years.


Retail stores can be more apt to fail due to fierce competition. They also tend to require a comparatively high initial investment. High traffic locations are important but can often be too expensive for small retail businesses. A combination of poor management, tough competition and poor marketing can often lead to winding up a company and leaving a retail space vacant.


The areas with the largest proportions of long-term vacancies are the North East and the North West, where 7.3% and 7% of shops respectively have stood empty for at least three years. Greater London (2.3%) and the South West (3.2%) have the lowest proportions.


A shop’s location can also have an effect. Shopping centres have the highest overall vacancy rates (13.8%), compared to 10.9% of town centre shops and 6% in retail parks.


By Phil Smith


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