Shop vacancy rates fell below 14% for the first time in four years, according to The Local Data Company.

In December, 13.9% of shops were empty suggesting that the improving economy and efforts to help town centres were paying off.

However, the north-south divide was clearly evident with vacancy rates in the North west and North east increasing over the past year.

The North west was the worst hit region with 17% of shops empty, more than double the 8.1% left vacant in London.

Morecambe had the highest rate of shop vacancies with the northern towns of Bolton, Bootle, Eccles, Stockton-on-Tees and Hartlepool also in the top 10.