A continued rise in vacant shops is blighting the British high street, a damning report warned today amid fears the sector will never fully recover.
Ministers have been urged to make it easier for empty shops to be used for alternative purposes after the report by the Local Data Company revealed a rise in the average vacancy rate to 14.6 per cent - up from 14.3 per cent at the end of last year.
The report also found the north-south divide is widening. Vacancy rates were up to 6 per cent higher in Wales, the Midlands, northern England and Scotland than in London and the south where the vacancy rate was 12.7 per cent.
Margate and Nottingham were among the towns and cities suffering the highest vacancy rates at 36.5 per cent and 30 per cent respectively. This means that around a third of the shops in these town centres are empty.
The depressing findings suggest the government's high-profile measures to help shops is failing, as high streets continue to be hit by the increasing popularity of shopping online and out-of-town shopping centres and retail parks.
Think tank Left Economics Advisory Panel co-ordinator Andrew Fisher said: "The retail sector is dependent on consumer confidence and their disposable income. Squeezed by contracting wages and rising bills it is inevitable that the knock-on effect on retail is so devastating."
He added that the decline in local shops will disproportionately affect the elderly, disabled and poorest who can't afford a car.
"As well as costing retail staff their jobs, the decline in local shops will also mean many working-class communities will lose their ability to buy essential goods locally."