The rate of unoccupied outlets on Britain’s high streets rose to 11.3% in October - the highest level since records began.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) and research body Springboard have released the latest Footfall and Vacancies Monitor, highlighting the highest level of unoccupancy in high streets and shopping centres since July 2011.
The worst hit areas of the country included Northern Ireland (20%), Wales (15.1%) and the north of England and Yorkshire (14.6%).
Stephen Robertson, director general of the BRC, said: “This new high in empty shop numbers really sets alarm bells ringing. It’s the worst vacancy rate since the survey began and confirms that financial challenges for both customers and retailers are far from over.
“Many retailers are battling stagnating sales and rising costs, and next year’s threatened business rates increase can only make matters worse. If the government wants to breathe life back into our town centres and ensure the retail industry can play its full role in job creation, it needs to freeze rates in 2013.”
He added that even though the rate of footfall for the three months to October was better than the 3.3% drop in the previous quarter, with an improvement in August driven by the Olympics, it weakened on the high street over the quarter with a 0.9% fall.
Both out-of-town and shopping centre locations saw a slight increase in footfall during the same period at 0.2% and 0.1% respectively.
“The figures follow a similar pattern to our retail sales monitoring,” added Robertson. “September’s cold snap drew the crowds stocking up on warmer clothing. But, while the Olympics appears to have brought people out onto high streets, that didn’t translate into a surge in spending.”
Steve Booth, chief executive of Springboard, said: “There is no doubt that October had the most detrimental impact on retail footfall over the past quarter. Traditionally it is a difficult month for retailers, as school holidays are over and winter weather sets in. However, the year-on-year drop in high street footfall this October was significantly better than the drop a year earlier.
“Furthermore, the quarterly figure has recovered significantly from the -5.5% decline reported in high streets during the previous quarter, when the UK experienced unseasonably wet weather. Though the pace has slowed, the continued decline in footfall could be a factor leading to the 0.4% increase in vacancy rates. Temporary lets over the festive season may positively affect this figure in November and December and the awareness of increasing vacancy rates has encouraged landlords to become more flexible to try and alleviate this issue, as the heavy rate burden is an ongoing concern for retailers.”