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4 February 2015, 08:33
Almost 1 in 5 shops on North East high streets were empty in the second half of last year.
That's compared with just one in 10 in the south.
The regional divide has been highlighted by The Local Data Company (LDC) as it revealed that the rate of shop vacancies across the country stood at 13.3% at the end of last year, down from a February 2012 peak of 14.6%.
Here in the North East, the vacancy rate was 18.8% in the second half of 2014, a fall of 0.3% on a year ago.
The best region is London, with a vacancy rate of 8.7% after a fall of 0.4%.
The report also found that 20% of all shops it tracked had been vacant for more than three years, which amounts to almost 10,000 outlets.
Local Data Company director Matthew Hopkinson said:
"This is the equivalent of five Manchesters lying empty.''
The North West has led the country in terms of shop vacancies since 2008 but has now been edged out by the North East.
The top 10 worst town centres for vacant retail and leisure space contain five in the West Midlands, four in the North West and one in the North East.
The top three are Burslem in Staffordshire with a vacancy rate of 29.4%, Stoke-on-Trent with a vacancy of 27.7% and Hartlepool, with a vacancy rate of 27.3%.
The top 10 best town centres have six in Greater London and the South East.
The top three are Debden in Essex which boasts a 0% vacancy rate, as does Highgate in London, while Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire has a 0.9% rate.
Mr Hopkinson said:
"At a regional level the polarisation between the North and the South is as wide as ever with London's vacancy rate being less than half that of the northern regions.''
Last month Tesco said it will close 43 stores and scrap the opening of 49 new outlets, while Morrisons said it will shut 10 as a response to losses incurred during the ongoing supermarket price war.
Mr Hopkinson added:
"While the numbers announced to date are small beer to the totals, the significance lies with the fact that whilst traditional shops have been closing it has been the supermarkets and convenience stores that have been expanding significantly which has kept the occupancy rates balanced.
The question as to who will occupy these newly vacant stores as well as those, which have been empty for a while is a very difficult one to answer positively.''