How many empty shops does your local Norwich shopping centre have?
- Credit: Archant
A desire to stay local and demand for convenience has filled up community shopping centres - but many are turning away from retail to stay relevant.
Vacancy rates in our local shopping centres have fallen, according to Norwich City Council figures, from 7.5pc in 2016 to 6.5pc this year.
The data, collected in June, shows that at the time just under half of the 28 centres were
fully occupied, and, in total, there were 21 empty units out of a possible 321.
But while the majority are thriving, rather than retail units, many are now filled up by takeaways, cafés, betting shops and service businesses such as hairdressers.
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At the shops on Aylsham Road/Copenhagen Way, just one of the five units there is now retail, and at St Augustine's Gate just two of the eight are.
But professor Joshua Bamfield, director of the Norwich-based Centre for Retail Research, said the report painted a positive picture - and that less retail units was not necessarily a bad thing.
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'The reality is there are probably too many shops in the country,' he said. 'With 17.5pc of retail having gone online, you don't need so many shops. Other uses are working.'
He said the figures for our local centres were 'robust', and that an overall vacancy rate of 6.5pc was positive.
'In some areas improvement has made a difference - looking at Unthank Road, that was
looking quite weak and weary
but some have been tided up now and it's made quite a difference,' he said.
'The view that people don't want to come into the city centre more than a couple of times a week is probably correct.'
The report notes that while retail use was traditionally seen as the best way to guarantee retail vitality, 'dramatic structural changes' to the industry have brought about change.
Referring to the city centre in particular, it says diversity, including restaurants, cafés, financial services, leisure and offices, can help support 'economic vitality and health'.
Some centres have seen notable successes - at the Colman Road/The Avenues shops, a vacancy rate of 18.9pc in 2016 has been reversed, falling back to 6.3pc.
Guy Gowing, managing partner of Arnolds Keys estate agents, said: 'They are bouncing back because convenience retail is popular, where people can pull up and park outside, which means occupancy levels are fairly high.'
Despite being the biggest local shopping centre, Unthank Road appears to be thriving.
As of June, just three - 7pc - of the area's 42 shops were empty, though more than half, 52.4pc were non-retail.
The road has a chemist, bank, eateries - including the Unthank Kitchen,
William and Florence and Blue Joanna - as well as a betting shop, Caffé Nero and estate agents.
Ollie Ewing, who works at The Annex, a bespoke kitchen furniture firm on the road, said the area felt vibrant.
'It's always been a busy area and if something is lost from the road then it's not much time before something else appears.'
Residents have, in the past, raised concerns over the road losing its independent shops.
It came after off-licence Le Chateau closed - replaced by the Caffé Nero - along with a bakery nearby.
Renovations are being carried out on a new building that replaced a former ironmonger's, which is due to become a fish and chip shop, flat and restaurant, but which city council officers said was not built in line with regulations.
Less success at district centres
Our larger, district shopping centres have been less successful, with the vacancy rate having increased.
The figure has increased from 9.6pc in 2016 to 11.7pc this year.
But there have been some success stories - the report highlights Earlham House as previously having one of the worst rates, but has benefited from refurbishments and now has 15 of its 17 units full.
In March last year, the shopping centre was taken over by new owners, who were urged to take action over parking rules which traders said was impacting business.
Almost half of units at many of the centres are now non-retail, including 47.1pc at Bowthorpe and 46.2pc at the Larkman.
Mr Gowing said that, with 35.3pc of its unit vacant, Bowthorpe shopping centre
still struggled, and needed something
that would entice people in.
But he said many of the roadside centres were performing well, individually, including the Eaton centre and the Larkman, where all the units are full.