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Up to one in four town centre shops are shut across the Black Country, report reveals

By Simon Penfold | Business | Published:

Nearly one in four shops in Walsall are closed, making it one of the worst affected town centres in the country according to a new report.

The BHS Store on Dudley Street in Wolverhampton, still closed a year after the company collapsed

It comes amid a sharp slowdown in shop openings UK wide, with Brexit uncertainty blamed for one of the worst performances in the last five years.

New figures from the Local Data Company, for the April to June period of this year, shows the number of shop openings fell by 84 per cent compared to the same time last year.

Despite a 1.7 per cent increase in shop openings on last year, Walsall was fifth worst performing shopping centre in the UK with 24.6 per cent of premises closed. In the unwanted top position was the Burslum area of Stoke-on-Trent, where almost one in three shops are shut.

The rest of the Black Country is also plagued by shop vacancy rates higher than they would like including West Bromwich, with 22.4 per cent of shops shut, Dudley with 17.7 per cent and Wolverhampton, where almost one in five shops, or 19.7 per cent, were closed during the second three months of the year.

Dudley town centre

Wolverhampton in particular will be hoping for a sharp change in its fortunes over the autumn as more retailers, including Debenhams, move into its Mander Shopping Centre following a £25 million revamp.

Meanwhile Kidderminster also had a 17.8 per cent vacancy rate, while in Stafford it was 19.1 per cent.

The national average between April and June was 12.2 per cent, while in the West Midlands it was slightly higher at 14.2 per cent, and the best performer locally was the Merry Hill Centre, with a vacancy rate of just 9.7 per cent. Its owner, intu, has recruited a string of shop chains since then and Next is due to move into the redeveloped former Sainsbury's supermarket at the centre next spring.

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Cannock's shop vacancy rate was also on the right side of the national average, at just 10.2 per cent, as was Stourbridge, at just 11 per cent.

Nationwide 207 more shops closed than opened over the period, a sharp reverse from the 1,284 increase in shops during the first three months of the year. There has also been a slowdown in the number of shops opening; just 2,995 in the second quarter of this year compared to the quarterly average of 4,006 in 2012 – a drop of 25 per cent.

Matthew Hopkinson of LDC said: "There was a striking turnaround in the second quarter of 2017 especially when compared to the trends of 2016, in the number of shop openings.

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"The impact of Brexit is clear with Q2 showing a net loss of more than 200 shops versus positive growth in the previous quarter.

"Not only has the trend turned negative with more closures than openings but the volume of activity has also dropped by 25 per cent. Whilst the numbers are currently relatively small to the total number of shops, the vacancy rate in Q2 started to rise and is likely to continue to do so if the current uncertainty continues.

West Bromwich High Street

"The role of physical retailing continues to evolve and the place that a shop has in the overall buying cycle varies from brand to brand and sector to sector. Stores continue to perform a vital role in the purchase cycle and consumer journey but the key questions remain around how many shops you need, what kind of format and in which locations.

"With rising costs everywhere for retailers, margins are being squeezed and therefore understanding these micro to macro location trends is fundamental for retailer success.

"Shorter lease lengths and more proactive management by landlords is likely to increase the number of openings and closures of stores and thus more fluidity in the UK’s high streets.

"The changes in the first half of 2017 are a clear indicator of the uncertainty that permeates across all aspects of the UK economy.”

Simon Penfold

By Simon Penfold
Business Editor - @SPenfold_star

Business Editor based at the Express & Star's head office in Wolverhampton, looking for stories big & small.

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