Warning about the future of Scottish high streets amid a hybrid work movement, as figures reveal festive pop-ups full of empty store units in December

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The store availability rate decreased to 16.1 per cent in the last three months of 2021, from 16.4 per cent in the third quarter of the year, according to figures from the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC). However, it was 1.7 percentage points higher than in the same period in 2020 and experts warned that continuing to work from home and “hybrid working” could “take a heavy toll” in city centres.

Vacancies in shopping malls also fell to 20.4 percent from 21.4 percent three months earlier, while vacancies in retail parks fell to 12.6 percent in the last three months of the year, down from 13 .4 percent in the third quarter. It remains the location with the lowest rate.

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David Lonsdale, director of SRC, said: “Scotland’s store vacancy rate improved marginally in the final months of 2021 after six consecutive quarters of deterioration. It was a small but welcome improvement, with the help of pop-ups and temporary permissions deployed in the run-up to the major festive trading period.

Store vacancies in Scotland were lower in the last three months of last year.

“That said, these numbers offer few crumbs of comfort. Too many stores are not in use, and the vacancy rate has hovered above 16 percent for a third straight quarter. Vacant unit volume is especially prominent in malls.” from Scotland”.

Mr Lonsdale added: “The fallout from the pandemic continues to take a heavy toll on retail destinations, and a sustained shift to hybrid working could make it difficult for store vacancy rates to fully recover. The extent to which retail remains a cornerstone of our town and city centers and can continue to employ almost a quarter of a million Scots will be influenced by the decisions that policy makers make.”

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Lucy Stainton, Director of Local Data Company, which co-authored the report, said: “Vacancy rates are a strong barometer of the health of our main streets. With this in mind, it is very encouraging to see the increase in vacant units finally level off after such a strong increase in the last two years.

“This is the first real indication that the most significant structural impacts of the pandemic are potentially at their peak for certain regions, and operators, owners and local governments may begin to rebuild after a particularly turbulent period.”

Ms Stainton said that while many chain and leisure operators were continuing to reduce the number of stores, there had been growth in the number of new independent businesses.

She said: “This is particularly key considering that having more independent operators alongside bigger brands creates more diverse and entertaining spaces for consumers, which will further bolster the appeal and therefore the recovery.”

Ms Stainton added: “Venue owners and creators in general will need to closely consider how the needs and wants of local consumers might have changed post-pandemic, and align with operators that are active and fulfilling their demands in such a way that the first signs of recovery continue”.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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