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Commercial Property Viewpoint Dec/Jan 2019

With the Budget over for another year and hopes largely dashed for any significant help for high street retail, a report by Radius Data Exchange says vacant shops are taking longer and longer to let, thanks to the continuing uncertainty surrounding Brexit, combined with the current turbulent retail trading conditions. The report says that on average, shops are taking 340 days to re-let and just 2% of shops are let within 3 months of marketing starting. With empty shops allowed just 3 months of void rates relief, landlords are having to shoulder the burden of empty property rates until the shop is re-let, which could be for a further 9 months and landlords do not qualify for the new Budget retail rates relief, which only applies to occupied smaller shops with a rateable value of up to £51,000 and only for two years from April 2019. No help to large shops or landlords/owners! The latest turbulence in the high street includes 50 closures announced by Debenhams following them reporting a £500m. annual loss and a proposed 100 shop closure by New Look and with Gourmet Burger, the latest restaurant chain heading into CVA. 10 years after the demise of Woolworths, 43 former Woolworths stores remain vacant. Swindon’s former Woolworths in Regent Street is empty again, thanks to the demise of Poundworld, whilst the Brunel Arcade’s anchor store, the House of Fraser closes on the 26th November, adding to Swindon’s growing supply of large empty shops. The future of Swindon’s Debenhams is not yet known, but the town has a big challenge to find new occupiers to fill Swindon’s large empty shops, likely to soon include Argos in Canal Walk. I’m not sure how far the Government’s Future High Streets Fund of £675m will stretch or how effective it will be, if at all, but the UK’s High Streets need help and inspiration urgently, in my view.Rumour has just emerged that House of Fraser in Swindon may have been reprieved and is to stay open. If true this brings good cheer to the town in time for Christmas.!