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More help demanded to sustain fall in empty shops

Retailers report an encouraging start to the year (pic: Terry Murden)

Rising competition for key retail space is contributing to an “encouraging” fall in the number of empty shops, but retailers are asking for more help to make sure the trend continues.

The Scottish vacancy rate fell in the first three months of this year to 15.8%, from 16.1% in the last quarter of 2021, but is still 0.5 percentage points higher than in the same point in 2021.

Shopping Centre vacancies decreased slightly to 20.2% from Q4’s 20.4%, while high street vacancies fell to 14.8% from 15%. Retail park’s have 12% of units vacant, down from 12.6%.

David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said the easing of Covid restrictions saw a “small but nonetheless welcome” reduction in the first three months of the year.

“This was a second successive quarterly improvement and was an encouraging start to the year. That said, the vacancy rate remains over a fifth above pre-pandemic levels and one in six Scottish retail stores still lies empty, a very vivid reminder of the heavy economic toll resulting from Covid and associated restrictions.”

David Lonsdale: measures cannot come soon enough (pic: Terry Murden)

He added: “The challenge for our retail destinations will be turning this into a more sustained improvement in the months ahead, particularly as concerns over the cost of living show little sign of abating and as retailers grapple with a hodgepodge of supply chain and government-mandated cost rises.

“The health of Scotland’s retail destinations is ultimately determined by the state of the overall economy and consumer sentiment.

“However a sharper and more urgent focus from policy makers is required too. Two government reports on towns and city centres recovery have been published in recent weeks, and the industry is looking to these and local election promises for early and concrete action to rejuvenate our high streets and retail destinations. Such measures cannot come soon enough.”

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Lucy Stainton, director, Local Data Company, said: “The latest figures show a continued— and welcome— reduction in empty units across nearly all regions in England as well as across both Scotland and Wales, as market recovery continues post-Covid.

“This decline in vacant space is being driven by further repurposing of retail space, growth in the independents sector and an increase in activity across the chains as well, as many brands are back on the acquisition trail after the pandemic stalled growth. 

“Anecdotally, we are aware of rising competition for prime space in both city centres and shopping centres, from both chain retail and leisure operators.

“This may lead to further polarisation in key locations as activity is concentrated in prime pitches, leaving more tertiary space behind.

“That being said, this continued decline in vacancy rates is further evidence of more sustained recovery.

“Whilst there are a number of well-publicised economic headwinds on the horizon, we might still remain optimistic that a proactive, concerted focus on the future of consumer-facing real estate will yield further recovery.”

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