Shop va­can­cies show ‘cau­tious op­ti­mism’

Bea­cons­field has a low level of empty units

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - NEWS - By Tom Herbert tom.herbert@trin­i­tymir­ror.com

BEA­CONS­FIELD shop va­cancy rates are among the low­est in Bri­tain, ac­cord­ing to re­search from the Lo­cal Data Com­pany (LDC).

The town had a re­tail and leisure premises va­cancy rate of 1.9% at the end of the first half of 2015, one of the low­est rates in Bri­tain and down from 2.9% a year be­fore.

Across the South East, 10.7% of premises are stand­ing empty, down from 10.9% at the end of 2014.

In the first half of 2015 the GB re­tail and leisure va­cancy rate re­duced to 11.7% from 11.9% in the sec­ond half of 2014.

The num­ber of va­cant premises in the top 650 town cen­tres num­bered 25,160, a re­duc­tion of 329 dur­ing the first half of 2015. Over­all across all lo­ca­tions tracked by LDC there were 49,591 va­cant premises a drop of 701.

From Jan­uary this year the num­ber of va­cant units in town cen­tres that have been un­oc­cu­pied for more than three years has risen by 24.4% to to­tal 9,650 units.

Shop­ping cen­tres con­tinue to have the high­est over­all va­cancy rate at 14.8% – down 0.4 per­cent­age points since the end of 2014 – fol­lowed by town cen­tres at 11.7%, down 0.2%, and re­tail parks at 6.6%, down 1.4%.

Matthew Hop­kin­son, di­rec­tor at the Lo­cal Data Com­pany, said: “Cau­tious op­ti­mism is ex­actly what the latest va­cancy rates data from LDC re­veals from the first half of 2015. The good news of re­duc­ing va­cancy rates has run in par­al­lel to bet­ter eco­nomic per­for­mance within the UK, and grow­ing re­tail sales and con­sumer con­fi­dence. The im­prov­ing va­cancy rates across the coun­try has been seen in all lo­ca­tion types with im­prove­ments of high street units, shop­ping cen­tres and re­tail parks.

“The devil is how­ever in the de­tail when one looks at more de­fined geogra­phies. For ex­am­ple, whilst at a GB level there has been slight im­prove­ment but at a coun­try level Wales has seen a mar­ginal in­crease in its va­cancy rate along­side the East of Eng­land and the North West. All other ar­eas have seen im­prove­ments and in the case of the North East by as much as -0.5 per­cent­age points.

“At a town cen­tre level there is con­sid­er­able vari­ance be­tween the best and the worst, as one should ex­pect with the gap be­ing over 25% when one looks na­tion­ally. The towns with the high­est va­cancy rates all have around one in four or one in five shops va­cant which is a blight for many towns that should not be lost when con­sid­er­ing the over­all pos­i­tive trend na­tion­ally.

“Lo­ca­tions such as New­port in South Wales, Stoke on Trent in the West Mid­lands and Stock­port in the North West have had high shop va­cancy rates since 20011/12 and in the case of all three are con­tin­u­ing to rise. Con­versely pre­vi­ous high shop va­cancy black spots such as Mar­gate, Not­ting­ham and Dud­ley have shown a marked re­duc­tion in their va­cancy rates from one in three units ly­ing empty in 2011 to less than one in five now. This is progress and as a re­sult of proac­tive man­age­ment and should be ap­plauded.

“The per­sis­tence of va­cancy is a ma­jor in­di­ca­tor of struc­tural de­cline. As LDC has been track­ing va­cancy rates since the start of the re­ces­sion in 2008/9 it is one of the best in­di­ca­tors of real change and per­for­mance in our town cen­tres, re­tail parks and shop­ping cen­tres. The per­sis­tent va­cancy anal­y­sis re­veals two sig­nif­i­cant facts. Firstly, of all the town cen­tre va­cant units just un­der a third have been va­cant for more than three years. This equates to nearly 10,000 empty shops, which is the equiv­a­lent size of over six Liver­pool city cen­tres. Se­condly, if units are not let within a year then there is a gen­eral trend that they will re­main un­oc­cu­pied and this is par­tic­u­larly true for sec­ondary re­tail parks and small (less than 200 units) high streets. The con­clu­sion from this can only be over sup­ply or the wrong size of space in the wrong lo­ca­tion.

“2015 and be­yond could start to see fur­ther im­prove­ments but this is more likely in fewer cen­tres than across all lo­ca­tions. Cau­tion has to be the watch­word both in terms of con­sumer con­fi­dence, the im­pact of any in­ter­est rate rise, the im­pact of cur­rency fluc­tu­a­tions es­pe­cially on sup­ply chains and fi­nally the ex­plo­sive growth of cer­tain busi­ness types in a fiercely com­pet­i­tive mar­ket which has led to talks of a bub­ble. Only time will tell.”

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