Britain’s high streets are fading away because new shops are not opening fast enough to replace those that close, despite the economic recovery.
The number of retail premises left empty last year almost tripled, as 5,839 shops were shuttered and 4,852 were opened, according to a survey by the accountancy firm PwC, which warned that the high street was “running out of time”.
While the rate of closures was similar to the previous year, 16 shops a day, the study of 500 UK town centres showed that net closures soared to 987, up from 371 in 2013.
The biggest casualties were mobile phone retailers, which lost a net 419 stores, or 18% of their total number of shops. Most of those losses were caused by the bankruptcy of Phones 4U in September.
Tougher rules for short-term lenders and the collapse in the gold price forced the closure of 233 cheque cashing and pawnbroking shops..
Customers shopping online or out of town helped cause the closure of a net 237 fashion and clothing shops and 53 travel agents. The closure of 69 video rental shops wiped out the stores on the high streets covered by the survey
PwC and Local Data Company, which carried out the survey, said the increase in net closures reflected long-term trends that the buoyant economy and returning consumer confidence could not make up for.
Shoppers are buying more goods over the internet or at shopping centres and mid-market retailers such as the lingerie chain La Senza, which collapsed in July, are increasingly losing out to upmarket brands and low-cost operators such as Primark.
Mike Jervis, a partner at PwC, said: “You would expect there to be at least as many shops opening as closing at this point in the economic cycle. 2014 was supposed to be the year when we saw the comeback of consumer confidence and spending and that is not reflected here.
“The high street does seem to be running out of time. Certain types of retailers have lost confidence in the high street because people are going to out of town areas for reasons of parking or safety. If you’re booking a holiday or selling a house you can do that online and the internet continues to dent the clothing sector.”
Charity shops opened the most new stores last year – a net of 64. Other retailers increasing their high street presence included coffee shops, tobacconists and e-cigarette sellers, discount stores and bookmakers. But betting is also moving online and the government has clamped down on fixed-odds betting, the main money spinner in bookies’ stores.
Supermarkets are also no longer snapping up premises to open convenience stores as they did a year ago, Jervis said. Morrisons announced on Thursday that it would shut 23 of its M convenience stores and halt new openings.
Jervis said: “The high street has got to make itself relevant. That may mean converting a lot more shops to fast food outlets or restaurants or for residential use to solve some of the housing issues. It has to be more than charity shops and betting shops.”
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