A new report by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and the Local Data Company (LDC) has revealed that Britain has lost 6,000 retail outlets in the past five years due to “cripping business rates and the impact of covid lockdowns”.
The North and Midlands were the most impacted, seeing the highest amount of empty storefronts, while London’s vacancy rate remained the lowest, improving during the last quarter thanks to the opening of new flagships and the return of tourists and office workers.
While all location types were experiencing critical vacancy rates, it was high streets that saw the most notable impact, as rising rents and increased competition placed pressure on small and independent businesses.
Retail parks were the only sector to prove resilient, bolstered by strong occupancy fundamentals and relatively small lot sizes, as well as agile strategies to adapt to business demands.
‘We do not foresee any improvements to vacancy rate in the future…’
In a statement addressing the findings, Helen Dickinson, CEO of the BRC, called on the government to review the “broken business rates system” in a bid to prevent further closures.
Dickinson noted that there was an additional 400 million pounds going onto retailers’ bills next April, likely halting investments needed for the sector in towns and cities.
She added: “The government announcement earlier in the week about making changes of use to vacant units easier is welcome but it’s important local councils have a cohesive plan, and don’t leave gap-toothed high streets that are no longer a customer destination and risk becoming inviable. Government should go one step further and freeze rates bills next year. ”
Building on Dickinson’s statement, Lucy Stainton, director of LDC, outlined the struggles retailers are currently facing, including rising interest rates, inflation, tightened discretionary spending and a dip in confidence among consumers.
Stainton continued: “With the continuing trend in mind, we do not foresee any improvements to vacancy rate in future. However, given that the latest rises in vacancy have not been particularly significant, we anticipate that any increases in the near future will be gradual.”