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Retail report shows health of Scottish high streets

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A report published today by the University of Stirling’s Institute for Retail Studies and the Local Data Company (LDC) on Scotland’s top 100 cities and towns shows that one in five Scottish towns have vacancy rates of 20% or more, with 70% of vacant property in a third of Scottish cities and towns having been vacant for more than a year.

An average of 14.5% Scottish shops are lying empty, higher than the British average of 14.1%. Banff and Huntly have the highest vacancy rates of over 30%, while Inverurie has the lowest at 2%. Inverness is the city with the highest vacancy rate at 18%.

The report also highlights the importance of independent retailing to Scotland’s towns, while stating that retail diversity in the Scottish cities, with the exception of Perth, fell between 2012 and 2013.

60 Scottish towns and cities have over 100 shops, with Glasgow highlighted as Scotland’s premier shopping city with over 5000 shops.

Professor Leigh Sparks, Professor of Retail Studies at the Institute for Retail Studies at University of Stirling, said: “This report shows that despite the concerns, retailing is still a fundamentally important and numerically and economically significant component of Scotland’s cities and towns. But there is considerable variation in the significance of, and make-up of, the retail mix across Scotland’s towns and cities. Understanding these differences is an important step in beginning to rethink what is needed in each of our centres and what the potential is generally, and for individual places.”

“Much can be made of the vacancy rate in shops in Scotland and in different places. The data presented here does allow detailed consideration of the nature of these vacancies and this begins the discussion of the solutions, some of which will involve new uses and a concentration of space, whereas elsewhere vacancy is not a problem.

“20% of our top 100 towns have vacancy rates over 20%; but for 5% of our towns the vacancy is less than 5%. Different places have very different issues and demands and this report helps get into the detail of these issues. The work presented today starts conversations at the national and the local level about what we need to do in our towns and cities to make sure we have a successful and suitable retail offer.”

Matthew Hopkinson, director at the Local Data Company, said: “This report, the first of its kind for Scottish town and city centres, shows the significant variances that exist across Scotland’s top 100 centres. In light of the forthcoming referendum on independence, the current variances to national averages are of interest. The squeeze on consumer spend, the significance of out of town retailing including supermarkets, and the relentless growth of internet sales are all significant issues for Scotland’s town centres.”

David McCorquodale, Head of Retail at KPMG, said: “This data clearly shows that Scottish high streets are polarizing between the thriving and the merely surviving.  With one in five shops lying empty in 20% of Scottish towns, it is vital we pinpoint and tackle the key issues causing these vacancies.

“There is no quick fix. In most cases it is necessary to reduce the amount of shops on the high street and bring back leisure and residential use, to reinvigorate the high street, allowing it to evolve to meet the needs of the modern consumer. Today’s report and debate is an important start to help inform the future reconfiguration, and ultimate rescue, of the heartland of our local communities.”

The report’s key findings were presented by Professor Leigh Sparks and Matthew Hopkinson at KPMG’s offices in Edinburgh this morning.

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