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Wet weather dampens high street

Footfall on the UK's high streets fell during the three months to July due in part to the wettest quarter on record, data from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has found.

Town centre high streets experienced the worst drop in footfall, down 5.5 per cent on a year ago, while out-of-town locations suffered a 1.2 per cent drop and shopping centres a fall of 0.4 per cent.

Overall, its Footfall and Vacancies Monitor recorded an average 2.3 per cent fall in the quarter on the year. It continues a downward trend with a two per cent drop from the previous quarter.

Director general of the BRC Stephen Robertson, said: "In most parts of the UK, it's a continuing story of people being short of money, reluctant or unable to spend, resulting in consistently high levels of empty shops."

The wettest weather on record for the months April to July was blamed for driving the sharp decline in shopper numbers, with shoppers preferring covered retail areas to escape the wet weather.

Diane Wehrle, research director at Springboard who also helped to compile the report, said that out-of-town retail locations had shown more resilience: "They are more convenient to access by car, provide cheaper car parking, and again consumers can avoid venturing outside in the rain."

July saw the biggest drop in overall footfall and, apart from the usual Christmas boost in December, high street footfall has now been falling for 18 months driven by job fears and falling disposable incomes.

Wehrle said that a small boost in June came as a result of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, while retailers would be hoping for a positive impact from the Olympics, the results of which will be reflected in the next quarter's survey.

The hardest-hit locations in the past three months were Greater London (-8.9 per cent), Scotland (-8.2 per cent), and the East (-7.3 per cent) while Northern Ireland and Wales were the only regions to see an increased footfall of 6.2 and four per cent respectively.

It also found that the number of shop vacancies in town centres were up on last year, from 11.2 per cent in July 2011 to 11.4 per cent this July.

Elsewhere in a separate survey, president of insolvency trade body R3 Lee Manning said that the retail sector would be forced to change.

"Much of the retail sector needs to change its methods of meeting customer expectations or face extinction. Store portfolios are simply too large at present, so shedding some unprofitable stores is part of this evolution," he said.

It said that retailers could witness a significant downsizing of between 30-40 per cent over the next three to five years.