Shop vacancies now back to 2010 levels

Some good news for retail landlords at last with the latest research showing UK retail vacancy rates are now back to 2010 levels.

Britain's shop vacancies edged down to 13.0 per cent in March, from a rate of 13.1 per cent in February, according to the Local Data Company. The overall retail and leisure vacancy rate also fell slightly to 11.6 per cent from 11.7 per cent in February.

Hitting pre-2008 levels would be even better news but this general trend, coupled with the review and revaluation of business rates in 2017, means the future is looking rosier for the retail sector.

LDC director Matthew Hopkinson said that the numbers were encouraging and reflected the wider positive news on consumer sentiment and spend. Even the slightest drop in vacancy rates should be celebrated after years of, frankly, hand to mouth survival for many retailers. Similarly, landlords have had to use ever inventive ways to get their properties in use, even for the shortest of periods, to avoid punitive business rate bills.

But before we get carried away, recent closure news from B&Q and Morrisons shows that these numbers can very easily change in the opposite direction. While they show more shops opening, we are also seeing structural change where shops are changing use to alternative uses and March saw the largest number of demolished properties at 95 (it was just 40 in February).

But, other good news for retailers came with sales figures showing a healthy boost thanks to the early Easter this year. Shoppers splashing out on Easter foods and new homewares helped UK retailers enjoy a bounce back in sales last month, according to industry figures.

The latest British Retail Consortium report showed sales up 3.2% on a like-for-like basis from a year ago, but the figures were flattered by the earlier Easter this year compared with 2014. BRC said food sales were strong and there was also solid demand for products in the home categories such as furniture and household appliances. But trade was subdued in fashion.

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