The number of empty shops across the UK hit an all-time high in April although footfall recovered to record its strongest rate in more than a year driven by high street shoppers.

According to the British Retail Consortium (BRC)/ Springboard Footfall and Vacancies Monitor, the shop vacancy rate in the UK hit 11.9%, up from 10.9% in at the beginning of the year. This is the highest level since records began in July 2011.

BRC director general Helen Dickinson said: “It’s a major concern that the vacancy rate has reached a record high, driven by increases in almost every part of the UK, with some regions like the South West seeing a significant leap in empty shop numbers. 

“With high streets topping the agenda for many now, there’s a real opportunity here to seize the moment and stem the tide of further closures.  Comparatively small steps to tackle deep-rooted issues such as parking, accessibility and rising business costs could make a huge difference to the health of town centres.”

The highest vacancy rate was recorded in Northern Ireland at 18.1% while Scotland’s vacancy was 10% and Wales’ empty shops hit 17.9%.

Despite the high empty shops rate, the BRC recorded the strongest overall footfall rate since December 2011, as April’s footfall jumped 1% year-on-year against a 5.7% fall in March.

The performance was driven by the warmer weather compared to a wet April last year. High streets recorded the greatest rise in footfall of 3.4%, which is the strongest rate since December 2011. Out-of-town locations recorded a 0.3% increase but shopping centre footfall fell 3%.

Springboard retail insights director Diane Wehrle said the disparity in the numbers across the locations is a result of high profile administrations impacting shopping centres.

She added: “The resilience of high streets is also likely to be a function of their diversity, as they have an offer that spans more than just retail. It is footfall outside usual retail hours that’s demonstrating the strongest performance.”

Looking ahead Dickinson remained confident of an improvement in the retail performance going forward.

“As we saw in our April sales figures, there are some very tentative signs of conditions improving, but the trading environment remains volatile.  Retailers will be hoping that warmer weather and a Bank Holiday boost help May to usher in better news.”