Footfall up 1.8% in three months to end January
Out-of-town shopping centres saw the highest growth in footfall with a 3.1% increase, compared with high streets where footfall was up 1.4% and shopping centres where it was up 0.8%.
The hardest-hit regions were Scotland, down 8.5% and the South West down 7.5%. Wales, Northern Ireland and the South East fared the best with footfall up by 11.4%, 7.2% and 7.1% respectively.
The national town centre vacancy rate in the UK was 11.1% in January 2012 (high streets and shopping centres), unchanged from October 2011. The highest vacancy rates were found in Northern Ireland at 14.1%, the North and Yorkshire at 12.9% and East Midlands at 12.4%.
Stephen Robertson, British Retail Consortium director general, said: "The lift in shopper numbers for the quarter is almost entirely down to a strong Christmas. And December looks deceptively good because it's being compared with the heavy snowfall which affected the end of 2010 and kept many people at home then.
"At the start of 2012 footfall numbers dipped again, showing underlying caution hasn't changed. Worries about personal finances and job security are putting people off shopping. Although inflation has started to ease, costs are still rising faster than wages. Any significant change in consumer sentiment is going to take time.
"The rate of town centre vacancies has stayed constant across the UK as a whole but the condition of too many high streets is still bleak. The 5.6% rise in business rates due in April would be another major blow. The Chancellor has the opportunity to recognise how much town centres matter to local jobs, economies and communities by sharply reducing the scale of that rise."
Diane Wehrle, research director at Springboard, said: "Despite recent concerns over the health of high streets, footfall defied analyst expectations over the last quarter with an uplift of nearly 2%. This is positive news considering some key players have recently gone into administration and there's been a wave of profit loss announcements. For the first time in five years December saw footfall up on the previous year as savvy shoppers took advantage of heavy retailer discounting."
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