Empty shops rate highest in the West Midlands

THE West Midlands has seen the largest rise of unoccupied units anywhere in the country, latest figures have shown.

The region’s vacancy rate is 18.5%, while in Dudley – the town closest to the giant Merry Hill Centre – it is as high as 32%.

The Local Data Company’s (LDC) latest shop vacancy report, titled ‘More Clicks, Less Bricks’, said the worst performing large centre (those with more than 400 shops) at the end of 2012 was Stockport with a vacancy rate of 28.3%, closely followed by Walsall at 28%. Wolverhampton was also in the top 10 at 25%, although this was down 2.3% on the figure 12 months ago.

It said despite an improving situation for all centres, it is significant that the top 25 worst performers are dominated by centres in the Midlands and North, the exception being Swansea at number six with a vacancy rate of 25.3%.

Matthew Hopkinson, LDC director, said: “All the regions saw a rise in vacancy, with the West Midlands seeing the largest rise. Some of the worst performing centres saw a significant drop in vacancy in the second half of the year, which has to be good news.”

The LDC analysis is based on vacant shop numbers and for the first time now includes vacant leisure premises. The report analysis is based on 278,915 retail and leisure premises that were physically surveyed in 2012 and sit within the 1,914 retail centres covered by the report.

Shopping centres across the regions saw vacancy rates between 13.5% and 17.5%. London was significantly lower at 7.5% while the West Midlands saw over 20%. Nationally the rate was 15.6%.

Vacancy rates at out of town sites are much lower with a national rate of just over 10%. In fact most of the regions rates were between 5% and 7% but a few poor performers pushed up the average.

Among the medium-sized centres, Dudley was the worst performer with a year-end shop vacancy rate of 32.4%. Again this list is populated mainly from the Midlands and North.

Based on the LDC key centres data for England, it is possible to plot a three year change in vacancy. The North West takes the top seven worst performing centres. Only seven centres out of the top twenty worst performers were outside the Midlands and the North.

In summary, LDC said: “The end of 2012 sounded the death knell for a number of High Street retailers, foremost amongst them HMV, Jessops and Blockbuster. The out of town market had already suffered the collapse of Comet earlier in the year. While there were long-standing question marks over the basis of the former three, Comet was a casualty of faltering demand for electricals based on declining disposable income.

“Paradoxically, Comet’s failure may well prove to be the lifeline for other players in that space as the economy begins to improve.”

Mr Hopkinson said the picture was one of increasing polarisation of performance between town centres, shopping centres and retail parks in every part of the country. Online continues to drive growth for a majority of retailers and so 2013 will be all about the supporting role that shops will have as ‘customer experience’ centres and showrooms as much as transactions through their tills.

“Inevitably this means fewer shops will be required as our net closures data shows, and as such one can expect this divergence in performance to grow. Secondary shopping centres are coming to the fore in this respect,” he said.

The big unknown remained how technology would continue to channel and mould consumer spending habits and to what effect this had on traditional shopping areas.

“The pressure between online and rising costs of running a shop on the high street due to rents, rates and parking charges, is likely to become an increasingly hot topic,” he added.