GUEST COLUMN: Will town have a vacant look?

This week’s guest column comes from James Fairman, director of Poyntons Consultancy based in Boston. Here he writes about vacancy rates on the high Street.

IN THE second half of 2011 town centre vacancy rates stabilised at around 14.3 per cent nationally. Predictions indicate that they will rise in 2012 according the Local Data Company.

This figure masked wide differences between different parts of the country with some areas of the North of England and the Midlands experiencing higher vacancy rates (up to 30 per cent in Stockport). The South and West of England faring much better (St Albans is only 8.2 per cent).

This has led to a reality of approximately 48,000 shops becoming vacant in 2012 in the UK. Things could get harder for the high street.

The scale of the retail sector’s Business Rates Bill is around £6bn a year. Eric Pickles, the secretary of state announced he was going to apply the maximum increase in this year’s business rate of an inflation busting 5.6 per cent, whilst also announcing a deferral scheme.

This could add to higher trading costs and coupled with lower demand mean a difficult year ahead.

Sainsbury’s boss Justin King, last week insisted that supermarkets should not be blamed for the apparent demise of the high street. Whether this is true or not, he is of the opinion that empty shops should be allowed, by planners, to be converted back to other uses such as residential or classrooms.

So who suffers?

The high street, whose communities depend on it for jobs and services. Whether these issues will affect the bustling streets of Boston, we shall have to wait and see.