One in eight shops in Britain is lying empty, bleak figures revealed last night.
In a sign of the crisis crippling the high street, nearly 20,000 stores are boarded up. It comes as a string of household names – including Marks & Spencer, Debenhams and Topshop owner Arcadia – plan further closures.
Cities, towns and villages across the country have been hit as consumers switch online and shops are forced out of business by sky-high rents and crippling rates.
Experts last night warned that Britain was losing its status as ‘a nation of shopkeepers’.
Towns and cities including Wakefield, Bolton, Chester, Gateshead and Northampton are among those hit hardest by the collapse of retailers [File photo]
The proportion of high street shops lying empty has soared over the past decade, from 5.4 per cent in late 2008 to 12.8 per cent last month, figures published by estate agents Knight Frank and the Local Data Company show.
It means 19,806 out of 154,869 shops are vacant. The figures do not include banks, restaurants, cafes, bars and other leisure outlets such as hairdressers or nail salons.
The crisis has been highlighted by the Daily Mail’s Save Our High Streets campaign, which calls for an overhaul of business rates and a level playing field between bricks-and-mortar retailers and internet-only firms such as Amazon.
Thousands of stores closed last year and more than 175,000 jobs are predicted to disappear from the high street this year.
Laith Khalaf, an analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: ‘Britain might not be a nation of shopkeepers much longer given the extensive decline of the high street.
‘While physical retailers have struggled to make ends meet, a new breed of digital upstarts are taking their place.
Cities, towns and villages across the country have been hit as consumers switch online and shops are forced out of business by sky-high rents and crippling rates [File photo]
The likes of ASOS, Boohoo, and Ocado have seen their fortunes rise as consumers increasingly turn to their mobile phone to shop, rather than their local high streets.’
Richard Hyman, an independent retail expert, said with many more shops set to close, the figures were just ‘a drop in the ocean’. He added: ‘We’re in a retail recession. In the future there will be far, far fewer shops.’
Stephen Springham, a partner at Knight Frank, said: ‘It’s a big wake-up call that we have too much retail space in this country. The status quo has got to change – other uses such as residential, offices or leisure can take the lead and retail can follow.’
Clive Betts, a Labour MP and chairman of the housing and local government committee, added: ‘There are fewer physical shops around because people are shopping online and that is simply going to continue.
‘Local authorities and communities have to be alive to this and planning ahead and not waiting for dereliction to happen.’
Further figures reveal that the crisis is likely to get even worse.
Stores with enough space to cover 250 football pitches have closed since the start of last year, according to analysis by Radius Data Company.
A total of 19.2 million sq ft of space shut in 2018 after retailers such as Toys R Us, Maplin and Poundworld went bust and 630 shops were closed. Companies including Carpetright, Mothercare, New Look and Prezzo shut hundreds of stores between them in an effort to save money.
Marks & Spencer, Debenhams and Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia are all preparing to shut stores, which will deliver another blow to already struggling high streets and town centres.
Our town centre is soulless
By Claire Duffin
Ask people in Northampton to describe their high street and one word keeps cropping up: soulless.
About a third of the shops are boarded up, while homeless people take shelter in vacant doorways.
There has been an exodus of big names: House of Fraser left in 2014, followed by BHS in 2016, when the chain collapsed into administration. Marks and Spencer closed its branch last year, lured to the new £140 million Rushden Lakes retail park, while there are fears over the future of Debenhams.
‘Full of pound shops’: Abington Street in Northampton has been hit by closures
Nationwide Bank closed its branch in Abington Street in January, following the Coop Bank and Royal Bank of Scotland.
Gretchen Larkin, owner of an independent clothing boutique, says the blame lies squarely at the feet of the council. ‘It’s not rocket science really, and you will hear the same thing from everyone – parking charges and rates,’ she said yesterday.
‘The council needs to lower the parking charges. And there are so many empty shops, so why would people come here?’
Resident Sophie McFadden, 43, said the street was ‘full of pound shops or cafes’, and Rushden Lakes – which is 15 miles out of town – had much more to offer.
The council has pledged to revitalise the town centre, and has set up a board called Northampton Forward ‘to create a vision for the town and drive forward a strategic programme of improvements’.
Towns and cities including Wakefield, Bolton, Chester, Gateshead and Northampton are among those hit hardest by the collapse of retailers. In Wakefield alone, more than 98,500 sq ft of store space has been left empty.
MPs have warned that formerly thriving high streets are in danger of becoming ghost towns unless ministers, councils, retailers and landlords take action.
The Government has come under fire for failing to go far enough in reforming business rates to support struggling firms. Business rates are based on the estimated rental value of a property.
High street retailers are subject to much higher bills than their online counterparts due to the higher rental value of their stores and amount of staff they employ.
More than 47,000 retailers saw their bills shoot up by a total of £128 million this month after the Government implemented a further a hike in business rates.
Chancellor Philip Hammond pledged to help smaller retailers in his Budget speech last year by offering £900 million in business rates relief. The Treasury has also invested £675 million in a ‘Future High Street Fund’ to spruce up local town centres.
But experts have branded the proposals ‘nonsense’, claiming the rates burden is still too high.