One in seven Scottish shops are lying empty

One in seven Scottish shops are lying empty, with more to come as household names such as Debenhams disappear from the high street, retail experts have warned.

Shops have been hit hard by lockdowns.

Shopping Centre vacancies have increased to 18.2 per cent of all units in the final three months of last year from 16.8 per cent in the previous quarter, according to the study from the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC).

Meanwhile, on the high street, vacancies remained at 13.5 per cent and retail park vacancies increased to 11.9 per cent up from 10.4 per cent in the three months to September. However, it remains the location with by far the lowest rate.The overall UK vacancy rate increased to 13.7 per cent, from 13.2 per cent in the previous three months and 1.6 percentage points higher than the same point in 2019.

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This was the tenth consecutive quarter of increasing vacancy rates.

Experts said that a recent raft of store closures, from the Debenhams brand, which is set to close all of its physical department stores after being bought out by online retailer Boohoo, to rumours that online giant Asos could be looking to snap up Arcadia brands including Topshop and Topman, would see more shops shuttered across the country.

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David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said: “The upheaval and tumult wrought by Covid and repeated government lockdowns and restrictions is taking a heavy toll on shops, many of which have been forcibly closed for five of the past ten months.

This second successive quarterly spike in the vacancy rate means that one in every seven stores in Scotland now lies empty, a stark and very visible reminder of the crisis engulfing parts of the industry.

These figures don’t include the announcements over recent days of further store closures by some household names - and the likelihood is things will continue to worsen in the coming months.

“Whilst a return to trading is crucial, it will not be a panacea for the industry. That’s why we hope to see a recovery plan from government to help get retail motoring again, including some semblance of the potential route back to re-opening the sector and out of lockdown.”

Lucy Stainton, head of retail and strategic partnerships at the Local Data Company, said that stores temporarily closed due to the pandemic were not included in the figures, but warned that many would be likely to remain closed and would be reflected in later reports.

She said: “Added to this, with recent announcements from the likes of Debenhams and Arcadia, the size of the stores coming onto the market will present a real challenge given the likely lack of demand for larger high street units. With a limited number of new store openings, structural solutions will need to be found to prevent these vacant units lying empty for 2,3,4 years or more.

“Looking further out, the increase in availability of space will provide opportunities for new businesses, however we must prepare ourselves for the picture to get worse before it gets better.”

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