Written by: Keith Tully
Published: 23rd November 2012
With retailers such as Comet, JJB Sports and Clinton Cards disappearing from our high streets, new figures that show 7.6% of London’s shops are now vacant have come at little surprise.
The survey, produced by the British Retail Consortium (BRC), painted a bleaker picture outside of the capital with more than 1 in 10 shops being dormant across UK towns and villages.
The BRC said the overall town centre vacancy rate of 11.3% was the lowest figure since it began the regular nationwide survey in July 2011.
A fifth of store units are currently empty in Northern Ireland, while the rate for Wales is 15.1% and for the North & Yorkshire region the rate is 14.6%.
Other well-known brands such as Blacks Leisure, Game and Peacocks have also disappeared or scaled back their presence on the high street after entering administration.
BRC director general Stephen Robertson said the new figures would set "alarm bells ringing" as it confirmed the financial challenges for both customers and retailers were far from over.
"Many retailers are battling stagnating sales and rising costs, and next year's threatened business rates increase can only make matters worse,” Mr Robertson said.
“If the Government wants to breathe life back into our town centres and ensure the retail industry can play its full role in job creation, it needs to freeze rates in 2013.”
A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: "Empty shops are a wasted economic opportunity that spoils the town centre. That is why we are proposing to scrap the damaging red tape that is keeping so many shops boarded up, allowing young entrepreneurs to open pop-up shops and turn the high streets into an exciting start-up launch pad.
"The best thing Government can do to help businesses is to provide them with a stable economic environment, which is why we want to protect local firms from soaring tax bills. We've postponed the revaluation, which will stop soaring tax bills for 800,000 firms, and given businesses the option of spreading this year's increases out over three years.”
One member of the public predicted an end to the high street as we know it, unless there’s a dramatic change.
“Landlords, councils and HMRC beware. Soon many businesses will give up on the high street. If taxes and rents are not heavily reduced, there will be no more tax or rent to collect. Once businesses realise that they no longer need a shop, customers habits will have changed and the effects will be irreversible. The high street in many towns will be nothing but coffee shops, charity shops and tumbleweed. And those overpriced 'to let' units will be of no use to anyone.”