NEARLY one in seven of Huddersfield town centre shops are empty, a survey claims.
The latest study by retail research body the Local Data Company shows that 15.3% of shop units in the town were vacant at the end of last year.
The figure is 5.1% up on mid-2010 – although Huddersfield continues to do better at filling its shop units than many other Yorkshire towns and cities – including Leeds and Bradford.
However, Huddersfield town centre manager Cathy Burger questioned the LDC findings, saying uptake of key sites during 2010 meant vacancy rates should have fallen.
A Kirklees Council survey last April put the vacancy rate for the 673 units within the ring road stood at 81 or 12%.
Ms Burger said that since then, Byram Arcade had been fully let and the Argos and Neaversons stores had been filled.
She said: “If anything, the percentage would have gone down.”
The LDC report showed that Yorkshire was the worst-hit region in the UK with an average vacancy rate of nearly 21%.
That compares with about 19% for large centres in the north-east, the north-west and West Midlands. Rates for large centres in London, the south-east, Eastern England and the south-west are about 14%. Scotland has the lowest at 12.6%.
In Yorkshire centres, Rotherham is the worst-hit with almost 30% of shops standing empty followed by Sheffield at 26.8% and Dewsbury on 25.9%. Others include Bradford at 25.3%, Leeds at 22.1%, Halifax on 18.9%, Wakefield at 16.7% and Batley on 13.2%.
Nationally on average, 14.5% of shops in UK towns and cities were vacant at the end of 2010 against 12% a year earlier.
The report said major changes in British retailing had left the traditional shop facing “its greatest challenge for survival in its history” and warned that some high streets would never return to their pre-recession occupancy levels.
It said high street retailers faced increasing prices, higher taxes, falling consumer demand, competition from online retailing and the popularity of out-of-town shopping centres.
LDC director Matthew Hopkinson said: “The sad reality is that the number of vacant shops is increasing with certain areas of the country severely impacted and unlikely to recover.
“These high streets will never revert back to what they once were and so the composition of our town centres needs to change to reflect modern shopping needs.”
Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation, said: “Given the structural nature of these changes, the challenge for local authorities is to work with businesses, including retailers and landlords to sensibly manage this transition and to be creative in looking for new roles and uses for empty shops.”