According to the British Retail Consortium (BRC), the national town centre vacancy rate has reached the highest figure since monitoring began in July 2011.

With an average of 11.3%, the areas worst affected are  Northern Ireland  (with a 20.0% vacancy rate), Wales (15.1%) and the North & Yorkshire (14.6%).

Footfall (number of shoppers) has also weakened on the high street over the quarter with a 0.9% fall, compared with a rise in both out-of-town (0.2%) and shopping centre locations (0.1%). Footfall increased on the high street in August, driven by the Olympics.

Stephen Robertson, BRC Director General, said: ‘This new high in empty shop numbers really sets alarm bells ringing. It’s the worst vacancy rate since the survey began in July 2011 and confirms that financial challenges for both customers and retailers are far from over.

‘Many retailers are battling stagnating sales and rising costs, and next year’s threatened business rates increase can only make matters worse. If the Government wants to breathe life back into our town centres and ensure the retail industry can play its full role in job creation it needs to freeze rates in 2013.

‘It’s a little more cheering to see footfall suffering less than the previous quarter but shopper numbers were still no better than a year ago. The figures follow a similar pattern to our retail sales monitoring. September’s cold snap drew the crowds stocking up on warmer clothing. But, while the Olympics appears to have brought people out onto high streets, that didn’t translate into a surge in spending.’

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