More than a quarter of English and Welsh retail space lost since financial crash, says report

More than a quarter of retail floorspace in England and Wales was lost in the seven years following the global financial crisis, a new study has concluded.

Empty shops: financial crash heralded steep decline in retail floorspace
Empty shops: financial crash heralded steep decline in retail floorspace

A study conducted by Northumbria University found the total amount of retail floorspace across England and Wales shrank from 157 million to 114 million square metres between 2008 and 2015, a drop of 27.6 per cent.

The total amount of retail floorspace shrank in all but five local authorities across England and Wales. In more than two-thirds of authorities, floorspace shrank by more than 20 per cent.

London was not immune to the trend. Newham was the only borough in the capital to see an increase in retail floorspace, after the opening of Westfield Stratford in 2011.

Outside the capital, Corby in the East Midlands saw an increase in both retail floorspace, in part due to the success of the Willow Place shopping centre, the study said. 

Paul Michael Greenhalgh, professor of real estate and regeneration at Northumbria University, said high street decline could be attributed to a range of factors including reduced consumer spending power, the increased cost of imported goods, and the rise of online shopping.

He said: "This is not just bad news for retailers. Empty shop fronts blight the high street in towns and cities across country.

"Our analysis delivers a sobering message: across most of England and Wales, the revenue generated from business rates on retail properties has diminished significantly.

"Local authorities in England and Wales – hit by significant funding cuts during austerity – are increasingly exposed to the vagaries of commercial real estate markets, since they now depend more on income from business rates to pay for local services."

Last month, it was reported that research by Local Data Company found the number of empty shops, pubs and restaurants in the UK had dramatically increased in the first half of 2018.

In October, the government published plans alongside this year’s Budget to relax rules around high street use classes in a bid to revive ailing town centres.

In July this year, retail expert Bill Grimsey published a report recommending that councils should steer town centres away from retail uses.

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