The number of empty stores on the high street is unlikely to fall and may rise to unprecedented levels, research published by the British Council of Shopping Centres (BCSC) has shown.

In a report published today, Empty Shops, What does the future hold for town centres?, the BCSC said that void rates could reach as much as 13% to 14% next year before trailing off at 11%, and more than one in 10 shops may remain empty in the long term.

That is a significant jump from the average 6% to 7% void rate between 2000 and 2007.

The study cited a 30% fall in the number of independent stores, along with 10% of sales now being made online, as being causes of the increase. The findings prompted the BCSC to repeat calls to the Government to make town centre regeneration a priority.

The report blamed the business rates regime for hindering new development and the Government was urged to reassess the system as part of its National Planning Policy Framework.

BCSC president and managing director of retail at Land Securities Richard Akers said: “UK business rates must be urgently reviewed if retail businesses are to survive and compete with rising online sales on an even footing.

“Likewise, the imposition of empty rates on even the smallest properties is hindering owners’investment in their properties, and therefore their ability to work with town centre managers in developing centres that meet residents’ needs.”

The findings came a day after a report from property agency Cushman & Wakefield forecast that the amount of new shopping centre space will remain low in the coming years.

Just 18,500 sq m of space is expected to be added in 2012, the lowest increase since the 1950s.