Tuesday, September 23, 2014

News: Retail vacancies rise in Rotherham

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The retail vacancy rate in Rotherham town centre has risen for the first time since 2010, according to research by retail experts at commercial real estate advisers, Colliers International.

The National Retail Barometer provides a unique perspective on the outlook for the country's retail property market as it tracks vacancy rates/voids in 15 key locations, including Rotherham.

Before the recession, Colliers recorded the vacancy rate (the percentage of empty ground floor units in the retail centre) in Rotherham as low as 6.1% in 2006, rising to 28.2% in 2010, the highest of the 15 research locations. The economic downturn saw a number of high profile national retailers, such as Woolworths and Ethel Austin, close their Rotherham stores and developments stall.

The evolution of the retail sector and the rise of discount retailers has helped to fill many of those voids. In addition, the council's focus on creating a different retail offer in the face of stiff nearby competition by supporting new, independent shops with financial support has also proved successful. Over 80 businesses have opened up in the town centre since 2010.

Rotherham is a "Portas Pilot" using government and private sector funding to support retail which has helped to reduce vacancy rates, boost footfall and increase shopper satisfaction.

Colliers tracked the trend, which saw vacancy rates go from 28% down to 18.1% in October 2013. Now though, the research has the rate at 19.7% for April 2014. Since then, the innovative Maker's Emporium has opened on the High Street with work underway next door at La Bella Lingerie. Heritage regeneration over the road is set to complete in December, bringing dilapidated listed buildings back into use.

Another trend has seen short team leases on large premises on College Street and Bridgegate but national retailers continue to close. Phose4U is the latest casualty as it entered administration with NatWest closing its Corporation Street branch this week. The large former Co-Op Travel store remains empty but growing retailers like CeX have opened in the town and FEXCO's No 1 Currency is set to open on Effingham Street.

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The report said: "With high street retail having seemingly weathered the worst of the economic downturn, rafts of retailer administrations and rapid technological and consumer change, we are seeing evidence of its new role in the retail hierarchy.

"With many modern retail high streets perfectly positioned for top-up shopping, achieving the right mix of multiple and independent retailers and leisure offers such as cafes and bars, can position a centre alongside online shopping, not against it.

"Despite the steady improvement to our vacancy rate over the last 12 months, it remains to be seen as to whether our sample centres will return to an occupancy level witnessed in October 2006."

The report also highlights the issue of "prime" retail space, recognising that, as the position of town centres has changed, UK high streets still have an oversupply of floor space.

In Rotherham, researchers reviewed what constitutes the prime retail space in light of new developments, key tenants and changing footfall trends. It concluded that many units were not fit for purpose and that prime retail space was reduced by 60%.

The massive new Tesco is due to open in November and the council's cabinet meets tomorrow to discuss the next steps for the development of Forge Island as a potential cinema-led development site or site for car parking. Both could have a big impact on the continued evolution of Rotherham town centre.

Mark Phillipson, head of retail at Colliers International, said: "For retail landlords, the challenge is to provide a key point of difference which will attract shoppers. In this respect, an attractive leisure element and free or cheap parking is essential.

"All shopping environments need to continue to develop initiatives which will drive footfall and inevitably lead to greater retailer demand for shops."

Images: La Bella Lingerie

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