Shop vacancy rates stabilised in 2011 but are expected to increase again in 2012 as consumers move away from the high street. That’s according to a study of over 2,700 towns, cities, retail parks and shopping centres by the Local Data Company, which found that national rates had stablised at 14.3%. However, there are wide differences in vacancy rates, from 0% to 36%, with central “core” areas remaining healthy but secondary centres and outlying areas struggling as multiple retailers exit for larger out-of-town destinations. There’s also a big regional variation, with most places with above average vacancy located in the Midlands and the north. For example, Stockport has a vacancy rate over 30%, while Nottingham, Grimsby, Stockton, Wolverhampton, Blackburn, Walsall and Blackpool all have vacancy rates over 25%. In contrast, the best performers are mostly in the south and west. Although York and Harrogate see vacancy rates below 10%, so do Exeter, Kingston, Camden, Cambridge, Taunton, Salisbury and St Albans, the best performer with an 8.2% vacancy rate. The reports says that weak consumer confidence, rising unemployment, the growth in retail sales in supermarkets and the internet are among the reasons that lead to the view that shop vacancies are to rise in 2012. Matthew Hopkinson, director at the Local Data Company, said: “The stable top line rate of 2011 hides the significant breadth in town centre vacancy rates up and down the country and the structural issues that are at stake. The reality is that the odds are stacked against a positive take up of shops and as such the new reality of 48,000 empty shops is here to stay unless an alternative use or purpose can be found.”