Nearly one in six Scottish retail units empty, prompting renewed call to reinvigorate sector

Nearly one in six retail premises in Scotland is lying empty, up by a quarter over the past year, and could worsen further, according to new data.

The vacancy rate for the second quarter of this year was 16.1 per cent, a new six-year high and up by 3.2 percentage points on the same period last year, the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) and Local Data Company (LDC) have revealed.

Empty-shop figures escalated across the board from the first quarter of this year, in shopping centres, retail parks and on the high street. Overall the retail vacancy rate in Scotland in the first three months of this year stood at 15.3 per cent.

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SRC director David Lonsdale said it was “far from clear” the vacancy rate “has reached its apogee”. He said shopping centres fared “especially” badly, while retail parks once again performed “relatively better”.

High-street vacancies increased to 14.5 per cent in the second quarter of this year. Picture: Lisa Ferguson.High-street vacancies increased to 14.5 per cent in the second quarter of this year. Picture: Lisa Ferguson.
High-street vacancies increased to 14.5 per cent in the second quarter of this year. Picture: Lisa Ferguson.
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From quarter one to two, shopping centre vacancies increased to 21.5 per cent from 20.1 per cent, while high-street vacancies jumped to 14.5 per cent from 13.9 per cent, and in retail parks the figure rose to 14.1 per cent from 12.9 per cent.

Mr Lonsdale said: “The fallout from the pandemic and government restrictions continues to exert a heavy toll on many of Scotland’s retail destinations. Retailers and shopping destinations are clearly going to have to work even harder to attract custom, through a blend of improvements to service, experience, pricing, and promotions.

"However, these figures lend urgency to the need for a sharper focus from policy makers too, and for early measures to bring energy and footfall back into our city centres and retail destinations.

"It is encouraging that two big government reports are scheduled to be published soon – on city centre recovery and on a town centres action plan. The measures which result cannot come soon enough, and there is certainly no room for complacency just because Covid restrictions are easing.”

LDC director Lucy Stainton said the vacancy rate was now the highest ever recorded by the retail location data company.

Cautious optimism

She said that retailers were “now starting to dust themselves off with cautious optimism, keeping a close eye on the rapidly changing infection rate and the pace at which vaccinations are taking place; two measures that could seriously de-rail recovery efforts should they not go in the right direction”.

Ms Stainton continued: “With appetite for new space increasing but still modest, there will simply never be enough demand to meet the supply.

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"The property market will be forced to think of more creative ways to utilise this space, to avoid exacerbating the already-high rates of long-term voids across our retail destinations which are not only unsightly and costly for landlords, but also have a negative impact on surrounding stores.”

The latest SRC data comes after the organisation and KPMG recently revealed that total sales north of the Border fell by 3 per cent last month on a two-year basis compared with June 2019, when they had decreased by 2.3 per cent.

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