The 'disappearing' high street?
The scale of decline in bricks and mortar retailing was crystallised this month with a report highlighting that more than 20,000 shops have ‘disappeared’ from the high streets and communities they once served.
Between 2010 and 2019, some 20,143 shops in England and Wales liable for business rates have ‘disappeared’ after being converted into homes, restaurants, cafes, or have been demolished, according to Government data analysed by Altus Group.
However, in that time, 14,314 ‘new’ stores had come onto the Local Rating Lists, meaning the overall number of shops has fallen by 5,289.
According to Altus Groups’ analysis of official Government data, the total number of shops in England and Wales has fallen from 430,360 on April 1 2010 to 424,531 today.
The Centre for Retail Research suggests that within the next five years, the overall number of shops will fall even further by 8,500 to around 416,000. The numbers do not include those shops which are currently vacant and to let.
The national town centre vacancy rate climbed to a four year high of 10.2 per cent in April according to the British Retail Consortium vacancies monitor, putting the number of empty shops at 43,302.
“We are witnessing a repurposing of surplus retail space” said Altus Group head of UK business rates Robert Hayton.
“Over the coming months and years ahead, as retailers continue to reduce their store portfolios with the growth of online shopping, there will be an increase in the intensity of that repurposing.”
After long term campaigns from the BRC and calls across the retail sector, the Government has committed £900 million in business rates cuts.
These are aimed at independent high street firms and will see bills cut by a third from April 1 for two years for those smaller retail properties in England with a rateable value less than £51,000.
“The fact is that business rates, rising labour costs and low levels of profitability are driving retailers out of the sector and this problem will get worse, not better,” argued Centre for Retail Research director Joshua Bamfield.
“The Government has done a lot to reduce the impact of business rates upon smaller retailers, but that ignores the major impact that rates have on the larger businesses that face similar problems,” he added.