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One in nine shop units empty

Lonsdale calls for more action to halt shop closures

David LonsdaleMore action is required from government and local authorities to lure shoppers back into Scottish shops and halt a continuing rise in empty units, it has been claimed.

One in nine shops are now vacant in town centres which last month suffered a third successive monthly decline in footfall – the number of shoppers visiting retail stores.

David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said: “This is a rather cheerless set of figures, heralding a third successive spike in the shop vacancy rate in our town centres coupled with a further drop in shopper footfall.

“Almost one out of every nine retail premises in Scotland now sits empty. Encouraging shoppers back is crucial to reducing the number of vacant premises.

empty shops“Retailers have a role to play but we also need to see government at all levels consider what further steps could be taken. For example local councils should place more emphasis on accessible and affordable parking and a building standards system that better facilitates retail refurbishment and expansion.

“At a time when retailers’ margins are thin or non-existent government needs to get a firmer grip on tax and regulatory costs which have mushroomed, starting by making it less costly for firms to invest in commercial premises.”

Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard, which carried out the survey, said all of the decline in footfall in Scotland is in high streets and shopping centres, but the drops have been much more severe than across the UK.

“The more severe drop in footfall in Scotland’s high streets and shopping centres compared with the UK is likely to be one of the reasons for the worsening of the vacancy rate to 10.6% from 10.4%.

“Many retailers are rationalising their networks as high street leases come to an end, and as retail parks are able to easily capitalise on the demands of shoppers in the omni-channel trading environment they inevitably act as a magnet for retailers who are able to trade successfully out of town.

“The growth in activity in retail parks in Scotland – which started five months earlier than across the UK in August 2013 and which is escalating – is likely to lead to a further deterioration in the vacancy rate over the coming months unless some key initiatives are implemented to boost town centre trade.”

Daily Business Comment: The trend outlined here is a little alarming, although – as predicted by this website recently – no mention is made of the contrasting weather conditions between Scotland and the rest of the UK in the last month. This summer has also been much wetter than last year. Persistent wet weather is bound to deter people from going to the shops, especially when they have the increasingly attractive option of shopping online. This seems somewhat basic and it is hard to know why this is overlooked in this analysis.

That said, the need to encourage more people to visit high streets is obvious and despite all the inquiries and reports on the subject it is clear that not enough is being done.  Contrary to moves to help car-borne shoppers, moves are afoot to introduce Sunday parking charges. The walkways in Edinburgh and Glasgow are now Third World standard and not what visitors ought to expect. We should be beyond getting the basics right and making our cities attractive places to visit.

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