One in five shops in the North West are empty according to new research which underlines a North-South divide in the fortunes of retail centres.

The Local Data Company`s latest research found average vacancy rates in the region of 20% – the highest in the country – compared to 9% in London.

The regional figure, unchanged on the first half of 2012, compares with a rate of 16.9% in Yorkshire and 18.3% in the West Midlands.

The worst performer in the North West is the West End area of Morecambe with a vacancy rate of 37.1%, followed by Runcorn with 30%. Both have seen the situation worsen since last year, by 2.8% and 6.4% respectively.

Blackpool, Blackburn and Stockport, a Portas Pilot town, have vacancy rates of 29%. Blackpool`s situation has improved with a 5.5% reduction but vacant stock increased by 1.8% and 1.1% in the other two towns respectively.

The report said 21 of the 25 worst centres for vacant shops are in the North, Midlands and Wales compared to 22 of the best performing locations being in the South.

It said small towns with less than 200 shops are in the healthiest state with a vacancy rate of 9.2%. Retail parks follow at 9.6% but have shown the most significant decline in the last six months with a rise of 0.8%.

The highest vacancy rates overall are in shopping centres where the average is 16.1%, which is higher than large cities and towns with more than 400 shops at 13.5%, and medium towns with 200 to 400 shops at 11.9%. This is at an all time high from 15.6% in 2012.

Overall one in seven shops are empty, but a further 403 shop units have been added to the stock in the first half of 2013, up 0.3%. The report analyses over 1,900 town centres, shopping centres and retail parks in the first half of 2013.

Matthew Hopkinson, director at the Local Data Company said:

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