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Retailers hope for upturn as empty shops hit new high

Unloved: empty TopShop in Princes Street, Edinburgh (pic: Terry Murden)

Retail leaders hope the reopening of businesses will mark a turning point as new data reveals that almost one in six Scottish shops now lies empty.

Months of lockdown have forced the closure of hundreds of stores and the loss of thousands of jobs.

In the first quarter of 2021, the Scottish vacancy rate pushed through 15% for the first time, increasing to 15.3%, from 14.4% in Q4 2020.

The figure is higher than the overall GB vacancy rate which increased to 14.1%, from 13.7% in Q4 2020. 

Shopping Centres in Scotland have suffered the most with one in five (20.1%) units empty, against 18.2% in Q4.

Fading grandeur: Jenners in Edinburgh (pic; Terry Murden)

On the high atreet, vacancies increased to 13.9% in Q1, from Q4’s 13.5%.

Retail Parks fared best, with vacancies increasing to 12.9% from 11.9% in Q4.

David Lonsdale, director at the Scottish Retail Consortium, said: “The maelstrom wrought by the pandemic and the forced closure of stores over the past year is laid bare in these figures.


“Permanent shop vacancies in Scotland pierced through 15% for the first time, with the vacancy rate reaching a new six-year high.

“The troubling deterioration in the vacancy rate over the past year has affected all types of retail destinations, with the uptick in empty units in shopping centres especially marked.

“Almost one in six Scottish shop premises now lies empty, above the UK average rate, and its far from certain the vacancy rate has crested.

David Lonsdale

David Lonsdale: ‘far from certain the vacancy rate has crested’ (pic: Terry Murden)

“Its a vivid reminder of the economic toll of the pandemic and of repeated lockdowns and restrictions.

“The next devolved government needs to respond to this reality with a recovery plan that pauses any new non-Covid related red tape to allow the industry to recover.”

Lucy Stainton, director, Local Data Company, said: “We would argue that we have not yet seen the true impact of these lockdowns and this will only be obvious once the market has had the chance to re-open fully.

“We have seen a number of household names announcing further store closures or indeed, disappearing from our high streets entirely showing how challenged physical retail continues to be.

“Shopping centres have been particularly exposed to the effects of the covid-19 pandemic, principally having a lower proportion of “essential” retailing as well as being exposed to categories which are in decline such as fashion, department stores and casual dining.

Sign of the times (pic: Terry Murden)

“This being said, the early indications from the first few days of the “unlocking” have shown there is still significant demand for physical retail and eating out.

“Hopefully, as consumer confidence continues to build momentum with reduced covid-19 cases, more of the population vaccinated and warmer weather, further fall out from the pandemic might be mitigated somewhat.

“Similarly we are seeing a lot of redevelopment with retail stores being converted to other uses such as office space and residential property – this too may help stabilise the increase in vacancy we’d otherwise expect to see continue into Q2.”

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