1. ITV Report

North West has the most empty shops in the country

The number of vacant shops blighting the UK's high streets and shopping centres has continued to rise, the worst-performing region overall being the North West, with average vacancy rates of 20.1%, according to a survey.

Margate suffering the highest vacancy rate of 36.5%, a report revealed.

The best high street was at Chalfont St Peter in Buckinghamshire, where there are no empty shops, and Nottingham was the worst performing big centre with more than 30% of its sites empty.

Ministers have been urged to make it easier for vacant shops to be used for alternative purposes after a report by the Local Data Company showed the average vacancy rate rose to 14.6% at the end of June, up from 14.3% six months ago.

And the report found the north-south divide is widening, with vacancy rates of 18.5% in Wales, the Midlands and the North and 16.7% in Scotland, compared with 12.7% across London and the south.

The depressing findings come despite the Government's high-profile measures to help shops, as high streets continue to be hit by the increasing popularity of shopping online and out-of-town retail parks.

Retail expert Mary Portas has been working with 12 towns - including Margate - to boost trade and breathe life back into beleaguered high streets but the report calls for more to be done to ensure shops are concentrated in vibrant cores.

The report, called Too Many Shops, said the fundamental problems were caused by the economy as consumer spending fell back to 2002 levels and by retailers expanding into too many sites before the financial crisis.

But it warns that changing shopping habits mean many high streets will not return to their past glory once the economy recovers.

The data, compiled by looking at 145,000 shops in 506 town centres, showed the sharpest decline suffered by the West Midlands, with 18.9% of shops closed, compared with 17.7% six months ago.