A third of Woolworths’ 800 former stores still lie empty two years after the shutters came down, and experts believe that they are likely to remain vacant because of their locations.

Some 30% of Woolworths stores are vacant, compared with 40% in July and 60% the year before that. Frozen food grocer Iceland has taken the most former Woolworths stores since the chain’s collapse and liquidation in January 2009. It has snapped up 7% of the sites, while 99p Stores has taken 5%, Poundland and B&M Bargains 4% and Original Factory Shop 3%.

Matthew Hopkinson, director of the Local Data Company, which conducted the research, said: “The million-dollar question is have all the locations with any value for retailers now been taken leaving nearly a third as long-term voids? I think we are potentially at that level now. That’s the reality of UK retail. We have to accept the landscape has changed. Certain sites in certain locations are surplus to requirement.”

Hopkinson said that retailers are unlikely to snap up many of the remaining stores, which total about 240. “The guys who want them have already taken the right stores in the right locations,” he said. A few more may be taken but that the vacancy rate is unlikely to fall below 20% he believed. That compares with a national average of 14.7%, according to Local Data Company figures.

Hopkinson said the remaining unlet shops could be demolished, or reclassified for another use, such as residential.

Christine Cross, chief retail adviser to PricewaterhouseCoopers, said: “The stores that remain unoccupied from the Woolworths estate are in areas in secondary high street locations, in those parts of the country most heavily impacted by the economic downturn. Perhaps some more creative solutions are needed for those remaining.”

Northern Ireland and the east of England have the highest Woolworths vacancy rates, with 47% and 42% respectively.

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