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Insight: Scotland's retail and leisure vacancy rates continue to decline

A new report has said that Scotland’s most challenged towns are showing signs of recovery at the same time that 'booze, money and gambling' outlets are exiting the high street.

SHOPPING CENTRES & RETAIL PARKS

Insight: Scotland's retail and leisure vacancy rates continue to decline

Figures from the Local Data Company and the Institute for Retail Studies at the University of Stirling, reveal that the Scottish national vacancy rate for retail and leisure units in towns is now 11.7%. This has fallen from 13% in 2012 and marks the fourth consecutive drop since 2012.

In addition, Scotland’s average retail vacancy rate has fallen from 12.9% to 12.6%.

The LDC said the pattern established since 2012 is repeated this year with England enjoying a lower vacancy rate than Scotland although the town centre vacancy rate in Wales is higher.

The figures show that while retail park vacancy across the UK has fallen in 2016, the vacancy rate for this sector has remained stable in Scotland at 7.8%. This is the highest rate across the UK.

According to the report, Scottish shopping centres have also displayed the highest vacancy rates across the country at 16.9% although this constitutes a substantial reduction from 17.6% last year and is a significant reduction from the highest levels of Scottish shopping centre vacancy in 2013 when it peaked at 18.8%.

Professor Leigh Sparks at the Institute for Retail Studies at the University of Stirling, said: “Vacancy rates continue to decline in Scotland across cities and towns.

“Both cities and towns are experiencing changes in structure. Leisure and service activities are growing in numbers and retail is experiencing reductions in proportionate terms. Cities are leading the way and identifying that the appropriate mix of retail and leisure that may play a role in retaining footfall across cities and towns.”

Dundee was found to have the highest vacancy rate of Scottish cities at 22%. East Kilbride and Troon saw the biggest improvement in their vacancy rates during the 2015/16 period while Tillicoultry and Kyle were the towns with the biggest percentage improvement in their vacancy rates since the first report in 2013.

The organisations’ Booze Money and Gambling Index, which tracks the presence of these shop types in Scotland, has reduced from a high of 5.8% of all units to 4.8% in 2016. In the last 12 months the number of cheque cashing premises, off-licences and betting shops have all reduced.

Matthew Hopkinson, director at the LDC, said: “In light of so much political uncertainty both within Scotland and the UK it is encouraging to see more shops being filled in Scottish towns and not by uses which some people consider to be high street pariahs. It also shows how cities are changing and in some cases the number of shops is reducing either as a result of change of use or redevelopment - of which the St James centre in Edinburgh is an example of. The impact of such changes in the retail and leisure offer are important to track and understand.

“Persistent vacancy is one of the key alarm bells for any town or city and so it is encouraging to see a reduction in the number of Scottish towns showing persistent vacancy. Yet there are some where one in seven of the units have been empty for more than three years.”

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