One in 12 city-centre stores lying empty

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ONE in 12 shops in the city centre is lying empty, it was revealed today.

New figures published by the city council show the vacancy rate has hit its highest level since 2006, with 114 empty retail units.

However, despite the increase, the figures are still better than the UK and Scottish average and city chiefs insist the Capital is performing well despite the double whammy of tram works and the economic gloom.

Today’s figures show that across the city, 8.3 per cent of shops were empty in 2011, compared with 7.8 per cent a year earlier. The Old Town had more empty shops than any other area, with 43 now vacant, three more than in 2010. The biggest increase in empty units was in the east end, which has seen the figure jump from only five in 2010 to 14.

Richard Dodd, a spokesman for the Scottish Retail Consortium, said: “Edinburgh is below the UK average and a shade below the Scottish average but it is still worryingly high and it is concerning that it is going up.

“There’s no question that a worryingly high number of shops are standing empty but slight reassurance is to be got from the fact Edinburgh is not suffering as much as Scotland as a whole, but one in 12 is still too high.

“There is the tough economic situation that is causing people to curtail spending but also things like investment in making town centres appealing and safe, parking and access, and costs like rent and business rates are a factor, so you can’t assume that once the economy improves shops will fill up, because a lot of the problems are deeper seated than that.

“These shop vacancy figures – and a spate of administrations since Christmas – make it really important that the Scottish Government acts to reduce the 5.6 per cent business rates increase they will impose from April.”

New figures published this week by the Local Data Company show that the UK average vacancy rate is 14.3 per cent, while the most recent figure for Scotland was 9.6 per cent.

Councillor Tom Buchanan, the city’s economic development leader, said: “This year’s figure is still well below the national average for the UK. There is no room for complacency, however, and we are working closely in partnership with Essential Edinburgh to continue to promote the city centre to retailers and shoppers alike.”

The Royal Mile has been hit by a spate of recent shop closures after the council put up the rent it charges some of its tenants, with some shop owners claiming that the council has put up their rent by more than 88 per cent.

Princes Street, the city’s main shopping thoroughfare, also has a number of empty units. However, many are in the process of being refurbished, including the entire first block at the east end, which is being developed into a Motel One hotel and a new Apple store.

Separate data published by Essential Edinburgh shows that footfall increased by four per cent in 2011 compared with 2010. However, the last five months of the year were down compared with the previous year and below the average for comparator cities after tram works returned.

‘It’d help us if all the other shops are let’

It is a small side street off the busy Royal Mile that is known for its independent shops.

But as soon as you turn into St Mary’s Street you are met with a large “To Let” sign on one of its largest stores.

The shop, which was once home to Anne Higgins’ Art To Wear, has been empty for some time, apart from a period during the festivals last year when it sold knitted items.

Cross the road and the former Girdwood Display printing shop is also empty, since moving to Peffer Place last October.

Businesses still based there include the David Bann vegetarian restaurant and kiltmaker Slanj.

Pamela Manderson, co-owner of Kilberry Bagpipes which relocated to the street last year, said: “I would like the empty shops to be occupied and it would help other businesses if all shops are let.”