Despite the marked downturn in consumer spending, the latest survey results from the Business Forum show that the number of empty shops in Brighton city centre has fallen over the past 8 months although there are one or two streets that are exceptions.
The overall vacancy rate (void units) for shops in the city centre in March of this year was 5.6% but this declined to 4.7% in October. Although this has been skewed slightly by temporary Christmas shops, the trend is still positive even taking these out of the equation.
Some streets have seen an improvement in occupancy. Sydney Street, Bond Street, Trafalgar Road, Gloucester Road, Ship Street, Meeting House Lane and New Road for example have all seen increases in occupancy rates.
Preston Street is showing a continuation of a downward trend in occupancy that has been running for several quarters. More shops have been vacated in the last six months bringing the vacancy rate to over 13%. This is the highest level recorded in this street since the Business Forum began monitoring the city's vacancy in 1999.
Preston Street has traditionally been the restaurant street for the city. However, new developments with new restaurants both in Brighton and Hove have caused a pull on either side of the divide and Preston Street is the casualty falling between the two stools.
The Business Forum is exploring options to reinvigorate Preston Street. Its evolution over the years into a street dominated by restaurants has led to a commercial “mono culture” which no longer serves its occupants well. In consultation with the city council, property owners could consider applying for a change of use to office accommodation which could go some way to satisfying the city’s need for new office space and introduce a ready made supply of customers into the street.
However, office rents are generally less than retail or restaurant rents and landlords may be reluctant to consider reducing the rental value of their investments. Alternatively, private landlords may prefer to get some rent and reasonable security rather than an empty property.
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