A new survey by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) shows that one in ten shops in the UK are empty, the highest ratio since the BRC began collecting figures in July 2011.
The figures illustrate the difficulties facing retailers in the run up to Christmas.
The BRC said that the vacancy rate has now reached 11.3 per cent in a further sign that the traditional model for retailers of opening stores on the high street or in out-of-town retail business parks is failing.
The BRC said that the region with the highest vacancy rate was Northern Ireland with 20 per cent, followed by Wales, the north and Yorkshire, all with vacancy rates of around 15 per cent.
Stephen Robertson, British Retail Consortium Director General, said: "This new high in empty shop numbers really sets alarm bells ringing. It's the worst vacancy rate since the survey began in July 2011 and confirms that financial challenges for both customers and retailers are far from over.
"Many retailers are battling stagnating sales and rising costs, and next year's threatened business rates increase can only make matters worse. If the Government wants to breathe life back into our town centres and ensure the retail industry can play its full role in job creation it needs to freeze rates in 2013.
The data is published as it emerges that electrical retailer Comet, recently put into administration, is to close 41 stores.
Business groups have urged the government to postpone a planned increase in business rates.
A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government, said: “The best thing government can do to help businesses is to provide them with a stable economic environment, which is why we want to protect local firms from soaring tax bills.
"We’ve postponed the revaluation, which will stop soaring tax bills for 800,000 firms, and given businesses the option of spreading this year’s increases out over three years."
The BRC said that footfall, used to measure the number of shoppers, fell by 0.4 per cent in the three months to October compared to the same quarter in 2011 and that there was a big decline in the month of October when footfall fell by 2.6 per cent.
The data comes after official figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed a fall of 0.8 per cent in retail sales in October.
The BRC figures show an improvement on the previous quarter when footfall fell by 3.3 per cent in the three months to the end of July.
There was a bigger decline in footfall in high street stores, 0.9 per cent, than in shops in out-of-town retail parks where there was a decline of just 0.2 per cent.
The locations that saw the biggest declines in the quarter were the East with a 4.1 per cent decline, the South West with 4.0 per cent and Scotland with 3.9 per cent.
Northern Ireland showed a 14.4 per cent improvement in the quarter.
Stephen Robertson added: "It's a little more cheering to see footfall suffering less than the previous quarter but shopper numbers were still no better than a year ago. The figures follow a similar pattern to our retail sales monitoring.
"September's cold snap drew the crowds stocking up on warmer clothing. But, while the Olympics appears to have brought people out onto high streets, that didn't translate into a surge in spending."
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