Vacant shops on the UK high street have almost trebled in the last year from just over 4 per cent to 12 per cent at the end of June.

Big cities such as Liverpool, Leeds and Derby are now suffering over 20 per cent vacancy rates, according to a report into the impact of the recession on town centres by the Local Data Company.

Since the middle of 2008 the north has been hit worst by increasing vacancy rates with the South and East performing much better.

The demise of large chains such as Woolworths has left many holes on high streets with over 70 per cent of the 800 Woolworths stores still lying empty.

British Property Federation chief executive Liz Peace said: “Ministers must take note of how bad the property sector has been hit by the recession, and also look specifically at how much worse things have got since they began charging empty rates last year.”

She added: “The problem is many shops won’t come back because there isn’t the demand and the internet caters for many things previously bought on the high street.”