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  1. ITV Report

'They have killed the high street': Welsh businesses struggling as number of empty shops increases

Credit: Chris Ison/PA Images

Businesses across Wales are struggling to stay open as the number of empty shops has increased over the past three years.

Research by the Local Data Company for ITV News/ITV Tonightshow 14.6% of shops on Welsh high streets stand empty with mid and west Wales being the worst hit area.

As of November 2019, at least 720 empty stores have been standing vacant for more than three years.

Footfall on our high streets has also decreased but at a less severe rate than the UK average.

One town whose high street is battling to survive is Llanelli in south Wales, where out-of-town shopping has been partly blamed for the closure of many high street stores.

1700
The number of empty high street shops in Wales in November 2019
  • Research conducted by Local Data Company for ITV News/ITV Tonight
Wales is the only area in the UK to see a rise in the number of Italian restaurants, despite this industry being under pressure. Credit: PA Images

Since 2016, the number of empty stores across Wales has increased from around 1600 to more than 1700. That is higher than the UK average.

In November 2016 13.4% of Welsh shops were empty compared to 14.6% three years later.

At 6%, Wales also has the highest rate of shops that have been empty for more than three years.

Less people were shopping on Welsh high streets too, with footfall dropping by 13.8%, according to research by Springboard. However this is significantly lower than the UK average of 20.5%.

An area where Wales has seen growth is in Italian Restaurants. Wales is the only area in the UK to see a rise in the eateries, despite this industry being under pressure. This growth has been driven mainly by independent businesses.

One town particularly feeling the demise of the high street is Llanelli. The opening of a large retail park just outside the centre, has been blamed in part for taking shoppers and chains like M&S away from the town.

A lack of parking and anti-social behaviour have also been apportioned blame.

But business support group, Ymlaen Llanelli, said there is still hope for the town.

At the end of the day we are on the up, we have come from a very difficult place and we are on a curve and we are improving, dramatically improving.

– Lesley Richard, Chairwoman Ymlaen Llanelli

The group is attempting to bring life back to the centre through hosting community events like a food festival, which bought 48,000 people into the town.

In Wales, more than 240 shops have changed into housing, offices or warehouses in the last five years. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Another way businesses are adapting to survive is through using shipping containers like at the Bone Yard in Cardiff.

The Bone Yard was set up by Jodie and Bryce Davies around four years ago and she says the demand from businesses has been huge.

The Bone Yard in Cardiff is one way business owners are trying to survive the cost of operating. Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

The difference with these spaces is that they are affordable, that is a big thing with business rates now. It is really difficult for a lot of shops on the high street to make it work. High streets are dying across the country because of that.

– Jodie Davies

On January 7, Welsh Government announced an extra £24.2 million for their high street and retail rates relief scheme.

The scheme aims to help 15,000 small and medium-sized businesses, including shops, restaurants, cafes, pubs and wine bars, pay their rates bills.

In a statement they said: “We recognise the challenges that our high streets and town centres are facing but know that their future has to be about more than retail.

"Supporting town centres and high streets is the cornerstone of our regeneration activities. Between 2014 and 2022 we will have invested £800 million to help support over 50 Welsh towns across Wales to breathe life back into their area through housing, office space, leisure and public services.

"Further steps to build on this significant support will be announced later this month."