As shop vacancy rates fall below 14% for the first time in four years, the Local Data Company’s (LDC) director has claimed Britain has too many shops.

Statistics published by the LDC in its Divide and Rule report revealed that rates fell to 13.9% in December last year.

Matthew Hopkinson, director, said that 2013 was a “pivotal year” for town centres. However, he added that “Great Britain has too many shops” as 50,000 lie empty, with the north-south divide growing.

“What is clear from LDC’s latest report on vacancy rates, Divide and Rule, is that there is a significant and growing divide between the north of the country and the south,” Hopkinson said. “In addition, we are seeing a greater concentration of the best retail and leisure destinations in fewer centres, be they large out-of-town ‘shopping parks’ or the increasing number of ‘mega malls’.”

Analysing over 2,000 town centres, shopping centres and retail parks visited in 2013, the report revealed the north west has the highest proportion of vacancies, at 17.3%. The national average is 12.2%.

Of the top 10 worst town centres for vacant retail and leisure premises, all of which are above 25%, seven are in the north east or north west. Conversely, of the top 10 best-performing town centres with the least vacant units, six are in Greater London.

London was the best-performing region, with just 8.1% vacancy rates for all types of high street outlets.

Wales has the highest national vacancy rate at 15.7%, with Swansea showing the greatest increase over four years from 8.3% in 2010 to 23.1% last year.

The report also showed that towns with fewer than 200 outlets have an average vacancy rate of 9%, compared to nearly 12% for medium-sized towns. This rose to 15.4% for shopping centres.

Commenting on the results, Mike Holling, executive director of the Craft Bakers’ Association, told British Baker he was pleased to see the reduction. “It’s very good news. It just shows that, possibly, there’s an improvement on the high street. However, there will be areas in the country where it’s going to be disproportionate.”

He added that if landlords were realistic with rents, those in the trade could be encouraged to open new outlets.