ITV investigation finds high street footfall is on the decline in the Meridian region

It's a sign of the times - empty shops and closing down signs, with many high streets across the Meridian region struggling.

An ITV investigation has found high street footfall in the south and south east has fallen by 17.9% between 2009 and 2019.

With retailers facing higher rents and business rates, as well as tough competition from the internet and retail parks, can Britain's High Streets be saved?

17.9%

Drop in footfall between 2009 and 2019. Figures from the Local Data Company and Springboard

Figures obtained by ITV News and Tonight through the Local Data Company and Springboard show shop vacancies have also risen. In the last three years it's gone up from 3,400 empty units to 3,500.

Though the figure for the Meridian region is lower than the national figure - it still means more than 9% of stores are vacant.

Now the Chantry Centre in Andover is almost deserted Credit: ITV Meridian

25 years ago the Chantry Centre in Andover in Hampshire was buzzing, but today it's almost deserted. There are so many reasons for this, such as out of town retail parks, the recession, and of course online shopping.

Richard Burgess has witnessed the decline first hand - his family have owned this pet shop for 3 generations.

There's no doubt the independents are the secret to Andover's future success along with a master plan being implemented by Wayne Hemingway - the man behind the 80's brand Red or Dead.

Georgina Roberts has been trading for 24 years in Andover, but she refuses to believe the high street is dying.

One of the main problems in Andover is footfall - the number of people coming into the high street. Back in 2013 - the town attracted nearly 950,000 shoppers - which is why the shops were doing well and it was picking up awards for the best high street.

But just 6 years later that figure has dropped to just over 681,000 - that's a fall of nearly 300,000 people - a devastating blow for retailers.

Marks and Spencer once occupied this empty unit in Ashford Credit: ITV Meridian

Elsewhere in the south east in Ashford in Kent, you don't have to go far to find an empty shop, or to hear that the High Street is going downhill.

Over the last fifteen years the face of Ashford has not only changed, but for many business owners it's become a challenge.

Woolworths in Ashford Credit: ITV Meridian

Trevor has been running Church View tea rooms in the town centre for four years. He says it's been tough in that time.

Luckily he's exempt from business rates, and persuaded his landlord to put off a rent rise. But any increase would create a gap he'd be unable to fill.

Ashford has already seen big names go, including the Marks and Spencer store. But one retail expert believes it's change that we all need to get used to when it comes to shopping.

"Free parking would help, and maybe they could reduce the rates for businesses. we've been through several recessions, but nothing quite as bad as what it is now."

Linda's Florist

There is hope that Ashford town centre will at some point bloom again, a change of direction needed to make sure more businesses don't end up closing down.

However, according to figures from the Local Data Company for ITV News / ITV Tonight:

There is hope that Ashford will bloom once again Credit: ITV Meridian
  • Across the Meridian region, as of November 2019, 9.7% of shops are vacant, more than 3500 units. That’s lower than the national average.

  • At least 1000 of those have been vacant for more than three years.

  • Between 2016 and 2019, the number of shops vacant across the Meridian region has risen from around 3400 to more than 3500, an increase of at least 100 more empty shops.

The research from the Local Data Company and Springboard also found that the South East is the fastest-growing region for vaping shops. A growth rate of 9% in 2019.

High Streets: End of the Road? – Tonight will be broadcast on Thursday 16th January at 7.30pm on ITV