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New figures show mixed picture

More shoppers, but also more empty shops on high streets

empty shopsRising shop vacancies continues to be a concern in Scotland, prompting retail lobbyist David Lonsdale to call for further government support.

The increase in the number of shops lying empty overshadowed figures showing more shoppers returning to the high street.

Footfall figures for April were 1.1% higher than a year ago, although down on the 1.7% growth in March.

The vacancy rate was 10.4%, a sharp rise from 9.7% in the previous quarter.

Footfall across the UK in April was 0.8% lower than a year ago, down from the 0.2% rise in March. This is below the three-month average of -0.3%.

Both High Streets and Shopping Centres reported a decline, falling 0.1% and 3.0% respectively.

Footfall in out-of-town locations fared the best with a 0.5% increase year-on-year, but this is the lowest figure since September 2014.

Four regions and countries reported footfall above the UK average, with the East, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Greater London all reporting positive footfall growth.

The national town centre vacancy rate was 10.2% in April 2015, down from the 10.4% rate reported in January 2015.

David LonsdaleMr Lonsdale (left), director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said: “Like the curate’s egg, these figures are excellent in part. Footfall in Scotland’s shopping destinations has sprouted for a third successive month.

“Indeed shopper footfall has shown positive growth in Scotland in ten of the last twelve months, outshining the rest of the UK, and at a time when the popularity of online retailing has never been greater.

“Less encouraging though is the spike in the shop vacancy rate in our town centres. Vacancies have risen for a second successive quarter, and with one in every ten retail premises now empty the vacancy rate in Scotland now lies a smidgen above that of the UK as a whole.

“The SRC wants to see further momentum injected into the government’s town centres agenda with improved accessibility, more affordable parking, and action to address the bugbear of the cost and ease of doing business.”

Diane Wehrle, retail insights director at Springboard, said: “The polarisation of shopper activity commented on last month is continuing.

“The sudden rise in the vacancy rate in Scotland is likely to be an indication of the adverse impact of the increasing number of retail leases that are expiring, offering retailers an opportunity to vacate units that are no longer in viable trading locations.

“The fact that this has impacted on Scotland’s towns and cities to a greater degree than the UK as a whole despite the growth of omni-channel shopping behaviour suggests a more challenging trading period ahead.”


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