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Published on May 11th, 2020 | by The GC Team

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Further clarity needed for stores to reopen

The British Retail Consortium has responded to Sunday evening’s coronavirus update from the Prime Minister, stating that “further clarity is needed” when it comes to the reopening of retail stores.

In his address to the nation, Boris Johnson last night suggested the country take its first careful steps out of lockdown, with the planned roadmap seeing the phased reopening of shops (step two), at the earliest by 1st June.  

The BRC said retailers around the country are already working on plans for reopening safely and with all necessary social distancing measures in place, but “we need a plan for shopping as well as shops,” said Chief Executive Helen Dickinson. “This means a plan that allows safe navigation both to and through our retail centres.

“It is vital that the reopening of stores is based on who can do so safely, as opposed to trying to draw lines in terms of different sizes or types of shop.”

The BRC has worked with Usdaw to support this process with a view to getting the retail sector to return to some sort of normality and has prepared social distancing guidance based on the experiences of thousands of supermarkets and other essential retailers.   

Regarding the phased reopening of shops next month, Dickinson said: “Further clarity is needed in coming days and we look forward to more details from the Government.”

Retail vacancies

Last week the BRC and the Local Data Company (LDC) reported “trouble ahead for retail vacancy rates” as the vacancy rate across all shopping locations in Great Britain recorded 12.2% in March 2020, up from 12.1% in December.

The rate for high streets rose to 12.3% from 12.1%, while retail parks increased from 8.1% in December to 8.2%.  Shopping centres fared better, with the rate dropping from 14.4% to 14.1% over the same period.

Dickinson pointed out that the coronavirus pandemic is likely to exacerbate this disparity in shopping locations: “Despite Government support, it is likely that some stores may not be able to reopen after the lockdown is lifted, and the vacancy rate may rise sharply in the future as a result.”

While the Government furlough scheme, loans and business rates holiday have provided an essential lifeline for thousands of retailers, Dickinson said it is vital that the Government follows the lead of other European countries and supports rents.

Lucy Stainton, Head of Retail and Strategic Partnerships at LDC, said the consistent increase in the number of stores lying empty indicates that the UK now has more retail space than is necessary to meet changing consumer habits.

“Given the pandemic, as well as the CVAs and administrations that have already taken place, plus the huge challenge to cash flow for all of the non-essential businesses forced to close, we are predicting that the vacancy rate will increase on a much steeper trajectory than originally anticipated this year.”

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