High street is back from its low-point

RETAIL WOES ... a new retail report paints a mixed picture of fortunes on the high street.
RETAIL WOES ... a new retail report paints a mixed picture of fortunes on the high street.

A NEW high street shopping survey paints a mixed picture for the future of retailing in South Shields.

The Local Data Company’s shop vacancy report reveals that the number of shop units occupied in the town centre increased in the second half of last year.

In the North East as a whole, the average vacancy rate stands at 16 per cent.

But figures vary greatly from area to area, with Stockton-on-Tees having the highest level at 26.9 per cent and Hexham in Northumberland the lowest, at 6.9 per cent.

In the first half of 2011, South Shields’s vacant shop unit rate stood at 18.8 per cent, but it fell to 15.9 per cent by the year’s end.

The survey provides a snapshot of the town’s economic and retail health.

And it seems to indicate that larger city centre shopping areas are faring slightly worse than their town centre counterparts.

The last year has been a mixed one for the King Street thoroughfare, with some premises shutting down but other larger retailers moving into town.

Closures included ladies shopping outlet Evans and electrical store Currys.Digital.

But over the same period, large discount clothing store, TwentyOne, took occupancy of part of the former Woolworths premises.

The report says: “Vacancy in the North East is, on average, more than 16 per cent. Large centres in this region perform relatively badly, with Stockton at nearly 27 per cent, just edging out Sunderland with 23.6 and Newcastle with 23.2.

“Small and medium centres perform better, with Chester-le-Street at 8.8 the best performing medium-sized centre at just under nine per cent vacancy.” Meanwhile, the overall national vacancy rate has remained stable at 14.3 per cent.

Overall, the report indicates a continued lack of consumer spending in the year ahead.

The report adds: “Weak consumer confidence, rising unemployment, the growth in retail sales by supermarkets and the internet, a significant number of retail leases coming to an end and the uncertainty in the banking sector, all leads to the view that shop vacancy rates are set to rise in 2012.

“2011 saw the disappearance of some well-known names from the High Street.

“Barratts, the shoe retailer with 191 stores and 391 concessions, went into administration in December 2011 after struggling for some years – it previously went under in 2009.

Focus DIY, with 170 stores, applied for administration in May 2011 against a background of weak housing market activity.”

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