A prominent business leader has warned that “too many stores aren’t in use” as latest figures revealed a slight drop in the number of empty units thanks to festive pop-ups.
In the fourth quarter of 2021, the Scottish shop vacancy rate fell slightly to 16.1%, from 16.4% in quarter three, according to the Scottish Retail Consortium, but there was no improvement on the high street, with just over one in six stores remaining empty.
David Lonsdale, the director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said it was a “small but nonetheless welcome improvement”, but warned that “too many stores aren’t in use and the vacancy rate has remained above 16% for a third successive quarter”.
“The fallout from the pandemic continues to exert a heavy toll on retail destinations, and a sustained shift towards hybrid working could make it trickier for store vacancy rates to ever fully recover,” said Mr Lonsdale.
“The extent to which retail remains the cornerstone of our town and city centres and can continue to employ almost a quarter of a million Scots will be influenced by decisions made by policy makers. With retailers’ revenues and shopper footfall continuing to fall short, more support is required,” he added.
The latest figures, released on Friday, also showed that shopping centre vacancies decreased to 20.4% in the final quarter of 2021, compared to 21.4% the quarter before.
And the drop was also seen in retail parks, where vacancies fell to 12.6%, down from 13.4%. They remained the location with the lowest rates of empty shops.
But in Scotland’s high streets, vacancies remained at 15% according to the retail body.
Lucy Stainton, director of the Local Data Company, said “it is very encouraging to see the increase in empty units finally stabilising after such a sharp rise over the past two years”.
“This is the first real indication that the most significant structural impacts of the pandemic are potentially at their peak for certain regions, and operators, landlords and local government alike can start to rebuild after a particularly turbulent period,” she said.
Scotland is one of the parts of the UK which is most blighted by empty shops, with only the North West and North East of England and Wales having higher rates according to national rankings.
In Greater London, 11% of stores are empty, while in the South East of England 12.2% are vacant. The East of England is third in the rankings, with 13.1% of its stores empty.