One of Britain’s biggest shopping centre and retail park owners today admitted that void levels are higher than during the downturn in the 1990s.

Commercial property giant Land Securities, which opened Bristol’s Cabot Circus scheme last year, blamed “unprecedented market” conditions on a 37.0 per cent valuation fall on its retail portfolio in the year to 31 March 2009.

Like-for-like voids across its retail portfolio stood at 5.2 per cent in the year to 31 March, up from 4.2 per cent for the same period the previous year.

In a bleak summary of market conditions the company said that although its major schemes achieved a “respectable performance”, with Cabot Circus 91 per cent let and The Elements, Livingston 80 per cent let, leasing at its upcoming St David’s 2 centre in Cardiff “has proved more challenging”. It was 47 per cent let at year-end.

Chief executive Francis Salway said of the tenant market: “Conditions worsened considerably in the second half of the year. As a result, we lost income through insolvencies and tenants not renewing their leases. At year-end we saw higher void levels than in the downturn of the 1990s.”

In an otherwise downbeat assessment of the retail outlook, Salway said the exception was the value sector. “Our recent reviews of sales data revealed that many value and discount retailers have been able to maintain or increase levels of trade as more customers have become value conscious. This trend also applies to our factory outlet centres and looks set to continue.”