Growth in net new openings in the leisure sector has been driven by “a race for space between fast food takeaway operators”, a new Local Data Company (LDC) has found.

The leisure sector saw 904 net new units overall in 2022, with drive-thru locations the fastest growing channel among larger brands, with the café and fast food category achieving a net increase of 52 drive-thru units last year, stated its new FY FY 2022 Retail and Leisure Trends Analysis.

Fast food takeaway was the fastest growing subcategory across Great Britain last year, with a net increase of 445 units – with some of the fastest growing brands in this space including German Doner Kebab, Burger King, Tortilla, Leon, Five Guys and Pepe’s Piri Piri – although it is still a decrease from the 2021 figure of 504 net new units.

Across retail and leisure the gap narrowed between openings and closures to its smallest since 2016. There were 3,365 new openings across retail and leisure in 2022 – a 57% year-on-year decrease from the 2021 figure of 7,902 units.

The overall vacancy rate declined by 0.6% to 13.8%, the biggest year-on-year decline since 2013, but still higher than the pre-pandemic level of 12.1% in H2 2019. Shopping centres in Great Britain saw a faster decline in vacancy rates than the average, with a year-on-year decrease of 0.9%, driven by take up of units that had been empty for a long time.

The LDC said it considered vacancy rates to be a key barometer of the relative health of the retail and leisure market, with the 2022 figures encouraging. “The leisure sector has faced some of the greatest challenges, but was still able to see a 0.5% decrease in vacancy rate, landing at 10.5% for the year,” read the report.

Retail parks remained the most attractive location type, driven by the interest from operators in opening drive-thru locations.