More than one in ten shops in the UK is currently empty, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) reported today.
After nine months in recession, and with many big-name firms struggling, the national town centre vacancy rate in the UK rose to 11.3% in October 2012. This figure, which includes high streets and shopping centres, is the highest recorded by the BRC since it started collecting data on occupancy levels in July 2011.
The vacancy rate of shops in Northern Ireland was twice the UK average, at 20.0%, and the rate was also above average in Wales (15.1%) and the North & Yorkshire (14.6%).
Glyn Roberts, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA), said that the survey paints a “grim picture” for Northern Ireland and pointed out that the situation is particularly bad in some towns and cities in the province.
In Belfast one in four shops is empty and the overall trend is moving towards a quarter of all shops being vacant by the middle of 2013, Roberts claimed.
Commenting on the figures for the whole of the UK, the BRC’s director general, Stephen Robertson, said that the new high in the number of shops standing empty “sets alarm bells ringing” and confirms that financial challenges for both customers and retailers are far from over.
The most recent high-profile casualty of the financial crisis is electrical retailer Comet, which entered administration earlier this month and is preparing to close a number of its stores. Other high street brands, including JJB Sports, Clinton Cards, Blacks Leisure, Game and Peacocks, have also cut back on the number of outlets they have, or ceased trading altogether, after entering administration.
Business rates are expected to go up by 2.6% in April, but with many retailers facing stagnating sales and rising costs, Robertson called on the government to freeze rates next year.