Prime sites scarce as retailers minimise risk

Vacant shops are becoming even scarcer on the UK's high streets, despite growing nervousness about the state of the economy, according to research from Cushman & Wakefield Healey & Baker.

Overall retail availability fell by another 0.5 per cent to 7.2 per cent in the three months to January. Availability at prime sites is now 1.3 per cent down on the same period last year.

According to C&W/H&B's analysis, the market tightened across the UK, with the exception of outer London - where the overall figure remained the same - and Scotland - where there was a small increase, following decreases in the previous two quarters.

Availability in central London fell dramatically over the quarter, from 8.3 per cent to 5.9 per cent. The decline was most notable in Brompton Road, but outside the prime area, availability is much higher. Nationwide, the largest rise in availability was in Aberdeen, where the vacancy rate soared from 6 per cent to 10.4 per cent. Availability remains highest in Glasgow, at 16 per cent.

Even with the economy slowing, C&W/H&B does not expect a surge in vacancies in prime locations. 'Retailers are focusing more on prime locations to minimise the risk in uncertain times, with the result that demand for prime retail locations is still strong,' said head of retail John Strachan. 'But conversely, availability is rising in secondary locations, and significantly in some.'