Nottingham’s retail scene is thriving, according to local experts – with falling vacancy rates and developments underway pointing towards a bright future.

With redevelopments of intu’s Victoria and Broadmarsh shopping centres underway and planned, the launch of city centre wi-fi, new transport links including new NET lines and a thriving independent retail scene, Nottingham city centre looks set to go from strength to strength as a destination for businesses and consumers.

The City Council’s latest Vacancy Report shows that the overall vacancy rate for retail units in the city centre now stands at 13.06%, in line with the national average and well ahead of cities in neighbouring West Midlands where the rate peaks at 29.4%.

The report, produced in partnership with FHP, Innes England and intu, reveals that the number of empty shops has decreased by 25% since it was at its worst in February 2013, and that there has been a massive 36% drop in the past 12 months in the number of units empty for over five years. Key to this has been addressing a group of units vacant since 2008, as part of the Trinity Square development. Since Innes England was brought on board by the owners in 2013 to help lease the units, and Trinity Square itself was redesigned, all but one unit is now let. The new intu Broadmarsh scheme for independents will help further reduce vacancy rates.

One of Nottingham’s successes has been the number of new leisure outlets that have opened. Retail has traditionally been the primary income generator for the UK’s high streets, but for most towns this revenue stream has been moving increasingly online, while the focus of visits has begun shifting to entertainment and leisure.  This sector is predicted to grow further nationally over the next three years, placing Nottingham in a positive position, with plenty of new cafes and restaurants opening or set to open soon.

This shift is reflected in an increase in early evening footfall in the city centre – alongside a year-on-year increase in daytime footfall every month this year, which bucks the national and regional trend. There is renewed confidence from business start-ups and local property agents report increased occupier demand over the past couple of years, with closer working between public and private sector city centre stakeholders now reaping rewards. The city has repeatedly gained Purple Flag status for its well-managed night-time economy, while the number of ‘vacancy hotspots’ has reduced to the point where empty units have become so dispersed, they can be targeted individually. Nottingham City Council then works on the problem units by contacting owners and finding out where they can help to bring the unit back into use.

Councillor Nick McDonald, Portfolio Holder for Jobs, Growth and Transport, said: “These latest figures show that we are holding our own against national and regional competitors. We have diversified our offer to include strong independent retailers and a vibrant leisure and entertainment sector alongside top high street names, to make us resilient to the challenge of a quarter of retail sales moving online since 2000.

“We have refocused investment to improve visitor experience but also to embrace digital channels because increasingly these are where people find, share and acquire things. So we have launched free city centre wi-fi as the very first step to addressing how the city centre can remain competitive in this fast-changing digital environment.”

Jeff Allen, chairman of the Nottingham Business Improvement District (BID) said: “There has been a remarkable change in Nottingham over the last three years and this demonstrates how effective we can be when all the parties work together.

“The BID continues to work hard to make Nottingham the destination of choice in the region during the daytime and evening in order to maximise the city’s trading potential for the benefit of our members and to enhance its national reputation. Key to the success of the city is people now visit for a multitude of reasons.  Our job is to integrate all aspects of the city’s offering so that when people visit, they are presented with all options, no matter what their requirement is.   To recognise this BID2, which starts January 2016, will also include in its membership businesses in the office and education sectors as well as retail and leisure.”

Ben Tebbutt, Director at FHP, commented: “Leisure is now a key part of the city centre experience. Consumers want a mixture of restaurants and cafés from fast food to fast-casual, to premium and fine dining. The variety is available in Nottingham to suit different demographics, different pockets and at different times of the day.

“FHP have worked with some fantastic additions to the city centre over the last 18 months including Reds True Barbeque, George’s Tradition, Bill’s, Annie’s Burger Shack, 200 degrees Coffee, Five Guys and White Rabbit Tea Room, to name but a few.”

Kathy McArdle, Chief Executive of the Creative Quarter, added: “Our strong independent retail offer has been further developed through schemes such as the Inspiring Retail competition, which gives new retailers opportunities to trade, and the City Council’s Vacant Shops Grant Scheme, which helped landlords to bring disused units up to scratch for new leaseholders.

“The planned improvements to the Victoria and Broadmarsh centres, paired with the thriving independent shopping scene have helped our city to stay vibrant, with a real buzz in the Creative Quarter and the many independent shopping clusters across the city. Independents are part of the heartbeat of the city, giving it much of its energy and personality.”

Janine Bone, regional centre director for intu in the Midlands, pointed out that vacancy rates include units unavailable during shopping centre redevelopments, which are expected to be let in the future. She said: “This is a very exciting time for retail in the city as both our major shopping centres undergo a real transformation, boosting Nottingham’s retail offer.  Work on the £42 million remodelling at intu Victoria Centre is nearly complete and exciting new retailers like Urban Outfitters, KIKO and Yankee Candle have opened their first Nottingham stores here. Brand new restaurants for the city are also set to open in our Clocktower dining area later this year.

“Over at intu Broadmarsh we’ve focused on bringing independent retail into the centre and have been delighted at the success of Dukki Design, Illpod and Elefair. We’re delighted that our plans for intu Broadmarsh have received approval. The creation of a remodelled shopping centre for customers to shop, eat, relax and socialise throughout the day and evening plus an improved new route through the centre provides a great opportunity for us to create something special for Nottingham. The transformation of intu Victoria Centre has already attracted some fantastic new brands to Nottingham and we are very excited about the future for the city.”