Empty shops are the most visible sign of decline, the report says
About 15% of High Street shops will be empty by the end of 2009, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has predicted.
This would be more than double the 7% of stores which were vacant at the start of the year.
And the BRC said some areas had already seen up to 40% of shop space empty, amid the slump in consumer confidence.
Big names such as Woolworths have disappeared from the High Street, but overall, UK retail sales have not collapsed, as some had feared.
Gateshead, Harwich in Essex and Walkden in Greater Manchester were among the worst hit areas.
Currently, about 12% of town centre shops were empty, the BRC said.
"It is clear that in many places, recession is accelerating a trend of decline that was already under way," the BRC said.
"The dangers associated with this deteriorating picture are clear.
"Vacant units are perhaps one of the most visible impacts of the economic downturn. Shoppers who are unable to ignore increasingly visible vacant units in their local communities are likely to further reinforce falling consumer confidence."
Some High Streets had lost custom to nearby towns and shopping centres, meaning they may "never go back" to being important shopping destinations, the report added.
However it insisted that the High Street still had a bright future, but needed "nurturing through this difficult period".
It called on ailing town centres to focus on local character and create attractive, safe environments.
Developing unique identities would help it to pull through the recession, a report has warned.
CHAINS LEAVING THE HIGH STREET
As well as trying to make towns more distinctive and welcoming, the BRC is also calling for better transport links in a 20-point plan to turn around the fortunes of struggling areas.
Revenue from car parks should be used to improve facilities to encourage greater footfall in town centres, it suggests.
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