Commercial Property: Time to diversify

Empty shops on Central Drive, Blackpool.
Empty shops on Central Drive, Blackpool.
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Ministers have been urged to make it easier for vacant shops to be used for alternative purposes after a report by the Local Data Company showed the average vacancy rate for commercial high street premises rose.

The number of vacant shops on the UK’s high streets and shopping centres rose to 14.6 per cent at the end of June, up from 14.3 per cent six months ago.

There are now calls for more to be done to help make it easier for potential tenants to move into premises, helping landlords make the most of their properties, and for an easing of stringent rules regarding what can and can’t be done in properties.

British Property Federation chief executive Liz Peace said: “Our towns face complex structural problems which are not going to be solved by tinkering around the edges.

“In many places, we need to have a complete re-think about how vacant property could be redeveloped into new uses. This will be challenging – and there will inevitably be some further business casualties – but the alternative is a period of steady, inexorable and irreversible decline with unacceptable social consequences.”

The report, called Too Many Shops, said the fundamental problems were caused by the economy, as consumer spending fell back to 2002 levels, and by retailers expanding into too many sites before the financial crisis.

The data, compiled by looking at 145,000 shops in 506 town centres, showed the worst-performing region overall was the North West, with average vacancy rates of 20.1 per cent.

Local Data Company director Matthew Hopkinson said: “At worst, it is about managing decline to enable alternative uses for a centre to take over and, at best, it is maintaining positive trends in the face of increasingly fierce competition and costs.”