Commercial property faces a multitude of challenges in 2022. From the covid pandemic to the cost of living crisis, commercial property owners and tenants have struggled like never before.

With the pandemic leaving commercial rents unpaid and shuttered businesses running out of money, many high streets have permanently changed. Major high street chains like Dehenhams and Topshop have left huge empty lets that have sat unfilled since early this year, with both brands being purchased by online-only retailers.

Now, as a cost of living crisis means business owners of all kinds must raise prices to keep the lights on, the post-lockdown recovery is being considerably hindered. Across the country, the churn of retail stores is high and many councils are having to find innovative ways to fill their spaces and keep commercial real estate alive.

Using data from Savills, Rightmove and Zoopla, Property Inspect has estimated the number of empty retail units for rent on different high streets throughout the UK. These estimates don’t give concrete figures for the number of empty units but they provide a good illustration of the situation in the UK’s 50 most populous towns and cities.

Property Inspect also conducted this analysis last year, allowing us to determine how commercial property has fared over the past year of covid recovery, supply chain challenges and the cost of living crisis.

Where high streets are thriving the most in the UK

CityZoopla properties (per 100,000)Rightmove properties (per 100,000)Savill’s properties (per 100,000)AverageRankRanking Change Since 2021
Sheffield1.373.591.542.1711
Birmingham2.013.421.842.422-1
Liverpool3.812.611.412.6137
Rochdale1.455.301.452.73411
Southampton2.373.552.372.7652
Leeds2.023.033.662.9060
Manchester1.284.383.473.047-4
Salford0.391.977.473.28816
Bristol4.962.592.373.3192
York1.516.062.523.3710-2

The number of empty shops has been calculated per 100,000 residents to account for city size in each case.

In 2022, Sheffield has officially taken the top spot as the UK city with the fewest empty retail units. This thriving high street has an estimated 2.17 empty shops per 100,000 people. Former leaders Birmingham have fallen to second place, with 2.42 empty shops per 100,000.

Almost every city in the top 10 has also seen a reduction in the average number of retail spaces empty in the past year. The only places to see a rise in empty shops are Manchester and Birmingham, which have seen a 0.12 and 1.02 respective rise in empty units per 100,000 since 2021.

The UK high streets with the most empty retail units

CityZoopla properties (per 100000)Rightmove properties (per 100,000)Savill’s properties (per 100,000)Average (2022)Rank (2022)Ranking Change Since 2021
Hull33.389.594.9915.99500
Stoke on Trent27.706.285.5413.17490
Walsall9.5220.567.6212.5748-13
Plymouth12.9718.313.0511.45470
Aberdeen6.1020.856.6111.1946-13
Northampton10.9220.271.5610.9245-13
Nottingham13.6717.010.9110.5344-18
Barnsley10.5615.843.089.83435
Bolton10.1718.080.759.67421
Cardiff6.0418.123.299.1541-21

Hull, Stoke on Trent and Plymouth have remained unchanged in the ranking for emptiest high streets, with each of the cities seeing an increase in empty units. Walsall had the most significant growth in empty units, with estimated figures increasing by more than 5 units per 100,000 people since last year.

The only area that has seen a fall in the number of empty shops is Barnsley, where a reduction of 0.59 empty spaces per 100,000 has pushed the town up 5 places in the ranking.

The state of UK high streets in 2022

Overall, there is an average of 6.5 empty retail units per 100,000 people on British high streets. This is an increase on the previous year, in which the estimated average was 6.16 empty shops per 100,000.

Exactly half the cities and towns in the study saw a fall in the number of empty units, however, suggesting that high streets are showing signs of recovery. These figures also don’t assess the square footage of those plots available, meaning where the future of large units like Topshop and Debenhams is still undecided, the impact on local shopping could be larger than in areas where only smaller units are unused.

The future of the high street is also of great concern to most local councils, with many turning their attention to new ways of using traditional retail space to create engaging spaces for people to congregate that will also bolster the economy. Though the cost of living crisis looms large over the general public’s recreational spending ability, the death of the high street seems to be still only a turn of phrase.