Scotland recorded the biggest reduction in the number of occupied high street units of anywhere in the UK last year, an analysis of vacant retail premises has revealed.
A report from the Local Data Company (LDC) found that 520 retail premises on Scottish high streets became unoccupied during 2017. UK-wide, the overall rate of vacant units increased for the first time in five years, but only by 0.2 per cent, settling at 11.2 per cent. Meanwhile, the net number of leisure units - hosting restaurants, bars or businesses such as cinemas - across Britain fell for the first time since 2012.
Retail experts warned that Scotland had been hard hit by a tough retail climate.
David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said: “The volume of shop closures is concerning and comes at a time when retailers are facing significant changes in consumers’ shopping habits, weak growth in retail sales, and burgeoning public policy induced costs. Indeed the growth in government-imposed costs – such as business rates, the national living wage, rising employer pension contributions and the apprenticeship levy - is outstripping that of shopper spending.”
He added: “The devolved administration’s rates surcharge on medium sized and larger commercial premises affects 5,000 stores, and costs retailers £14 million a year, which only serves to make it even more expensive to operate shops in our town centres.
“It is little wonder that one in nine retail premises is empty, leaving gap-toothed high streets with vacant units.”
The report, which is published twice a year, found that the vacancy rate decreased across all retail parks during the year, continuing the trend for increasing occupancy in out of town spaces, buoyed by free parking and easy accessibility, as well as an increased number of other types of businesses such as restaurants or entertainment complexes. However, it warned that shopping parks were likely to be hit further over the next year following a number of collapses of chains such as Toys R Us, which saw 100 shops - including ten in Scotland - shut after it fell into administration and New Look, which is currently in a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) and has earmarked a number of shops for closure.
Lucy Stainton, senior relationship manager at LDC said: “There is a spotlight on the British retail landscape like never before, with many household names struggling, if not falling casualty of cautious consumer sentiment and the constant pressure to innovate and invest.”