Only nine per cent of shops in centre of Leeds are empty as city bucks national trend

Around nine per cent of shops in the centre of Leeds city are empty - meaning the city is outperforming the national average.

Briggate in Leeds city centre

The most recent survey of vacancies in the pedestrian area of Leeds, not including shopping centres, gave a rate of 9.05 per cent in January. These figures do not include the high streets in towns and suburbs that fall within the Leeds boundaries.

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Leeds City Council says another survey will be done next month but that the trend is a move from retail towards pubs, restaurants and coffee shops.

It comes as new figures suggest high streets in the North and Yorkshire are being out-performed by the rest of the country on vacancy rates and footfall.

But city centres are performing better than their smaller counterparts.

Mark Durham, Economic Development Programme Leader at Leeds City Council, said footfall, meaning the number of visitors to the city centre, was 0.5 per cent lower in 2019 than the same period in 2018.

This is a smaller drop than for the country as a whole and comes in a year when there have been major roadworks and diversions on some of the city centre's busiest roads, such as The Headrow.

He said: "Observationally we are finding that rather than an increase in empty units over time, we are instead seeing a move from retail towards food and beverage uses like pubs, restaurants, coffee shops."

Among the efforts to support the city centre economy and the high street in general are investments in Kirkgate Market, the creation of the Victoria and Trinity Leeds centres and a year-long programme of events in Millennium Square.

City officials say they are using planning legislation to ensure that key city centre streets are mostly used for retail, and measures like a programme where local artists are employed to decorate empty units.

Mark Goldstone, Head of Business Representation & Policy at the West and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the impact of the decline was not universally felt around the region and "some locations, especially larger city centres, have held strong".

He said: "The more vibrant locations are no longer just about retail but more about ‘experience’, there is more diversity of offering with leisure, hospitality, events programmes and other experiential, place based activities which the online sellers cannot compete with.

"The government could certainly help the High Street by reforming business rates, one of the most regressive of taxes, incurred before profits are made and is something the Chamber continues to lobby government about.

"However we have seen, through the success of Business Improvement Districts for example, that there is a strong appetite amongst business communities to take a more proactive role.

"Ultimately successful locations will be driven by strong footfall, delivered through a diverse and productive business base and, increasingly, a stronger residential offering in towns and city centres. This could well mean changes to planning policies.”