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...Yet 56% saw some improvement, albeit small, compared with the same period 12 months ago, according to a review of the shop vacancy rate during 2012's first quarter by the Local Data Company.
Having visited 205 town centres and some 62,052 shops, the LDC found that one in ten locations had seen no change at all in their vacancy rates compared with Q1 2011, despite the national rate hitting an all-time high of 14.6% in February.
According to the LDC, "the well-documented challenges remain the same" as this time last year, "with the only major change being the increasing hold the banks have on many retailers and retail assets as refinancing takes place." The company went on to ominously predict that the "true impact" of this has yet to be seen.
Director of the LDC Matthew Hopkinson said: "2012 will see greater polarisation amongst town centres based on a number of local factors such as unemployment rates and consumer spend levels - but also just as significantly at a property type level the fight between the high street, the shopping centre (in and out of town) and the edge/out of town retail park."
As the news broke last week that members of independent retailers' association BIRA saw a 3% like-for-like sales increase during the Q1 period, the LDC pointed out that it was the independents who actually grew in number last year (+2.4%) and the chains who saw 0.25% store losses. With this in mind, the company pointed out that the term "anchor" may "have new meaning in 2012."
Mr Hopkinson added: "As top up shopping 'just enough just in time' takes hold, town centres will need to clearly understand what purpose they serve for their 'stakeholders,' be they residents, workers or visitors."