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High Street stores opening at lowest rate in seven years

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Image caption More shops closed than opened in the UK last year

New stores are opening on UK High Streets at their lowest rate in seven years, research suggests.

The Local Data Company, which studied the top 500 British town centres, found there were 4,083 new store openings in 2017, the lowest since 2010.

But with 5,855 outlets closing in 2017, a total of 1,772 shops disappeared.

Clothing and shoe shops closed at the fastest rate, while the number of beauty salons, coffee shops, ice-cream parlours and bookshops increased.

Lisa Hooker at PwC, which commissioned the research, said 2017 had been "tough for the British retail industry, especially the second half of the year".

She said many retailers were increasingly feeling the impact of online shopping, with the fashion business, banking, travel agents and estate agents all losing a significant number of outlets as a result.

The failure of wage growth to keep pace with inflation had also forced many shoppers to think more carefully about their spending habits.

However, Ms Hooker added: "It's important to remember the British High Street still plays a vital role in society and there are elements of growth amongst the headline numbers of decline.

"For example, almost 400 new clothes shops opened last year, even though over 700 closed. And, while four pubs a week closed, at the same time three a week opened."

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Store closures were unevenly spread across the country. Greater London fared worst, with a net loss of 336 shops, while south-eastern England lost 185 and eastern England lost 184.

Scotland suffered a net loss of 148 shops, while Wales ended the year with 53 fewer shops. No region of the country saw a net gain.

Lucy Stainton, a senior relationship manager at the Local Data Company, said 2018 would be a year when new entrants and younger brands took advantage of the "shake-out" in retail, seeing it as an opportunity to pick up available property.

She added: "Businesses with a relevant proposition and a strong understanding of their customer can absolutely still thrive in the right locations.

Equally, more established brands who continue to tweak their offer and innovate on the way through will no doubt see positive results and retain their valued place on our High Streets."

Analysis, Emma Simpson, business correspondent

You might be thinking that retail's on its knees given the grim headlines these last few months. The high street isn't dead but it is changing. And these figures reveal the shift.

Once again, beauty salons, nail bars and coffee shops are filling the gaps. Ice cream parlours are also flavour of the month, for now at least. But the number of clothing stores continues to shrink. The big fashion chains don't need as many stores as they once did as shoppers buy more online. Retailers are facing an array of challenges including rising costs and consumers with less money to spend.

What disposable income they do have, less of it is going into retail. And businesses are having to adapt. 2018 is shaping up to be just as tough, judging by the first quarter of this year.

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