YORKSHIRE and the North was the worst performing region in England in terms of shopper visits last month, as more customers ditch the high street and shopping centres in favour of retail parks and the Internet.
The region also saw the worst town centre vacancy rates as more shops lie deserted, according to the latest figures from the BRC/Springboard Footfall and Vacancies Monitor.
Footfall fell 3.0 per cent in Yorkshire and the North while it rose 0.4 per cent in Greater London. Yorkshire was the worst performing English region with only Northern Ireland and Wales seeing worse scores.
The region’s town centre vacancy rates stood at 11.9 per cent, compared with London’s rate of 6.8 per cent. Only Northern Ireland (at 17.3 per cent) saw a worse performance.
Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director at Springboard, said: “High street visits in the North and Yorkshire have dropped by five per cent compared with a 2.2 per cent fall nationally.
“One reason could be the lack of investment and regeneration in the region. If things are not happening to improve these towns, then they are going to lose out to regions that are more accessible.
“That accounts for why the vacancy rate is higher. Smaller stores are not attractive to big retailers. A lot of high street leases are coming to an end so it’s an opportunity for retailers to vacate with no penalty.”
Amid the gloom, there was good news for retail parks. While UK high streets saw a 2.2 per cent decline and shopping centres saw a 2.5 per cent fall in footfall last month (year on year), retail parks were up by 3.1 per cent
Total UK footfall fell by 1.1 per cent across Britain last month, a better performance than the 1.5 per cent fall in June.
The average British town centre vacancy rate was 9.8 per cent in July, down from the 10.2 per cent rate reported in April 2015. This is the lowest reported rate since BRC began reporting the data in July 2011.
Helen Dickinson, British Retail Consortium director general, said: “The continued popularity of retail parks will cheer retailers who have invested in these locations – a footfall increase of 3.1 per cent is the highest we’ve seen since May 2014.
“The fall in shop vacancy rates to below 10 per cent for the first time since this monitor began will also be welcomed, albeit cautiously.“
The BRC said that structural changes within retail have been challenging the role of the traditional high street for years.
“Many high streets up and down the country have been working to meet these challenges by reshaping themselves - in some cases becoming smaller - and working hard to establish their own unique offer as well integrating it with a digital presence,” said Ms Dickinson.
“Despite this the vacancy rate has remained stubbornly high – the dip below 10 per cent for the first time may be indicative of successful attempts to reshape Britain’s high streets in some locations.“
She said that a clear note of caution can be found in the footfall figures.
“No matter how successful high streets are in re-inventing themselves, if they can’t deliver increased footfall we could easily see vacancy rates climbing again.
“It’s worth noting that the footfall decline has slowed this month, but it still has a way to go.
“So today’s numbers seem to indicate that some British high streets are beginning to solve their space problem, but have yet to capitalise on this and drive up shopper numbers.”
The BRC said this is a delicate balancing act and could easily be derailed.
“Reducing the burden of business rates would give high street operators the opportunity they need to allow more of them to finally flourish,” she added.