Almost one in five shops in England’s northern towns and cities lie empty, compared with just one in 10 in the south, according to a new study.

The Local Data Company (LDC) said the rate of shop vacancies across the country stood at 13.3% at the end of last year, down from a peak of 14.6% in February 2012.

The LDC said the North East was the worst regional area, with a shop vacancy rate of 18.8% in the second half of 2014, a fall of 0.3% on a year ago. The best region is London, with a vacancy rate of 8.7% after a fall of 0.4%.

The report also found that 20% of all shops it tracked had been vacant for more than three years, which amounted to almost 10,000 outlets.

The North West has led the country in terms of shop vacancies since 2008, but has now been edged out by the North East.

The top 10 worst town centres for vacant retail and leisure space contain five in the West Midlands, four in the North West and one in the North East. The top three are Burslem in Staffordshire with a vacancy rate of 29.4%, Stoke-on-Trent with a vacancy of 27.7% and Hartlepool, with a vacancy rate of 27.3%.