Report reveals that shop occupancy has rocketed in recent years as city shopping continues to thrive

Shopping in Royal Arcade, Norwich.Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Shopping in Royal Arcade, Norwich.Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

Occupancy of Norwich city centre shops has rocketed over the last six years as its shopping scene continues to thrive.

Rural Life, NorwichPhoto by Simon Finlay.

Rural Life, NorwichPhoto by Simon Finlay. - Credit: Archant Norfolk

With its mix of big brands and independent stores, the city has long been popular with those keen on some retail therapy.

And an annual study by Norwich City Council to assess how many shops are in use has revealed the percentage of empty shop floor space in the city centre has dropped from 12.4pc in 2010 to just 5.8pc this year.

The latest figure is a rise on last year's 4.9pc – but is still 'relatively low' compared to other cities, the report says. It means about 11.4pc of all shop units are empty, which is lower than the national average of 11.7pc, according to the Local Data Company, it adds.

Stefan Gurney, executive director of the Norwich Business Improvement District (BID), said the figures painted a bright picture of shopping in Norwich.

'It's certainly very positive as far as we are concerned,' he said. 'Footfall has risen and people are continuing to enjoy what the city has to offer. When considering what other cities have achieved, many of which are much bigger than Norwich, it's impressive.'

In June, when the study was undertaken, of the 1,023 retail units in the city centre, 906 were trading, while 110 were vacant and seven were being refurbished.

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The positivity extends further afield in Norwich – over the last six years, the floor space vacancy rate in the so-called primary shopping area, which includes Castle Mall and the Lanes, has dropped from 11.7pc to 5.7pc.

In the large district centres, which include Magdalen Street, Anglia Square and Riverside, the percentage has dropped from 17.6pc to 5.4pc.

In particular, the report praises work to boost Magdalen Street and draw shoppers to the area, saying it has 'repositioned itself as a thriving area of speciality/ethnic retailers and restaurants'.

Though the figures show major improvement across Norwich, vacancy rates have crept up over the last year.

The city council said in the report it would keep an eye on the trend and is considering developing a city centre strategy.

A spokesman for the council said: 'The 2016 retail monitor shows that Norwich continues to have a thriving city centre retail offer with low vacancy rates which compares favourably to other UK cities.'

The report also notes that changes to planning regulations, which mean that smaller shops can be turned into office and residential space, restaurants or even schools with relatively little red tape, could push smaller businesses out of the centre.

But Mr Gurney said that was yet to be a problem and, citing examples in Westlegate and Gentleman's Walk, where office space has become housing, he said the introduction of new homes into the city was key to creating a vibrant area.

Last week, Norwich's Castle and Arcade district was shortlisted in the Great British High Street competition.• Do you have a story about shopping in Norwich? Email