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No Levelling Up On The High Street, As Gap Widens Between Success And Failure


The gap between the winners and losers in the UK’s retail hierarchy is getting wider, new data shows.

Research on the pace of shop closures, combined with new data on fashion store openings, shows the expanding divide between London and other successful retail locations, and a growing list of also-rans.

Out-of-town shopping centres and outlet malls across the country are among the winners, with town centres, particularly in the West Midlands, among the losers.

The British Retail Consortium and Local Data Company Vacancy Monitor shows that the number of retail vacancies increased in all shopping destinations and regions in Q1 2021. The vacancy rate rose to 14.1%, up 1.9% on the same period in 2020 and up 0.4% on the final quarter.

Around 5,000 shops have become vacant since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020.

The data means there have now been three consecutive years of increased retail vacancies, Retail Gazette reported.

BRC-LDC figures showed that high streets suffered worst, but that retail parks also saw a net fall in occupation. The North East was the hardest-hit region, with around one-fifth of shops vacant. The West Midlands saw the sharpest rise in vacancy levels, up 1.3% since the end of 2020 to stand at 16.9%.

There was no change in Greater London.

However, research by the Local Data Company on new fashion store openings between April 2020 and April 2021 showed that London was the winner. 

Telford Shopping Centre and Cheshire Oaks were second and third, Drapers Online reported, in a list that featured out-of-town locations in all but two of the top 20 spots.

Outlet malls did particularly well, with sales reported to have doubled compared to 2020. 

The data dump comes as the Commercial Tenants Association appointed Ian Filby to lead the formation of a new Retail Task Force. The new group aims to establish lobbying policy and strategic direction.    

“We’re all aware of the difficulties that the last year has placed on retail tenants, but the survival of these tenants is crucial to the recovery of the economy as well as to landlords themselves,” Filby said.