Take away food outlets saw net growth of 294 stores last year, according to the Local Data Company’s review of 2016, but pubs and inns had a net loss of 259.

The figures showed take away shops as the fourth best performing category for the year (after vaping shops, barbers and beauty salons). The data shows cafes and tearooms (generally independent) with a net gain of 241 sites and coffee shops (predominantly chains) adding 219. Restaurants and bars is the 10th classification in the list, with 176 net openings.

Public houses and inns is the only leisure classification to sit in the table of top net closures (at number 4).

Comment by Matthew Hopkinson, director at the Local Data Company:

“It was clear at the halfway stage in 2016 that both openings and closures had slowed sharply by the date of the EU referendum vote. Openings had dropped off even more rapidly and that key measure, the gap between the two, had generated a net loss of nearly 2,000 retail operations in the six months to the summer.

“In a year of surprises, what followed was a bump after the slump. Both openings and closures rose back to early-year levels in the autumn, but this time openings had the upper hand and began to correct the net losses of the mid-year trough. It was not enough to fill the gap, but by Christmas it had begun to mend the damage.

“Our new Growth Index, as published in the monthly LDC Dynamic Location Intelligence Bulletin, shows that in the first two months of 2017 that improvement has continued.

“The profile of the improvement is odd: both openings and closures have dropped in 2017, implying a lower level of activity in the market once again, but openings continue to outpace closures demonstrating that you can have growth even where a market is becoming subdued.

It has also been visible in the related vacancy rates for Retail and Leisure. The gradual inching-down of the LDC measures which began in 2012 came to a halt in the middle of the year. This eventually began to show improvement as 2016 ended and the downward trend has been re-established in the early months of 2017.

On the other hand while the Retail (Comparison, Convenience, Service) vacancy rate has fallen to a five year low and is heading downwards, the Leisure rate has been rising. That’s a rising vacancy rate in the one category in which both multiples and independents have been opening large numbers of units and must add to concerns that the food and beverage market is a bit more fragile than it looks.

The relationships between the structural shifts between online and offline non-food shops have been taken as straightforward, but maybe they are not. The ONS has the proportion of online sales overall at 14.6% and a simple view might be that the graph for that rise should be matched to some degree by the chart line for vacancy – but they are not. Both have risen since 2008 and online sales continue to take a larger market share, but vacancy has been heading down, albeit gently, since 2012.

The rate of growth of online can also be overestimated: at its current growth that segment of the market would not represent half of the retail market until 2030.