A FURTHER fall in the number of vacant city centre shops in Exeter has been welcomed as evidence of the "John Lewis effect".
The latest city centre management survey found 43 empty retail units – one fewer than two months ago and the lowest number since January – giving a vacancy rate of 6.96 per cent.
The Guildhall and Harlequin Shopping Centres both saw an increase in vacancies since July, while Sidwell Street, High Street, Fore Street and South Street saw new shops open.
There are no empty shops in North Street, Gandy Street, Catherine Street, Cheeke Street, Martins Lane and the Cathedral area.
It comes after a new report from the Local Data Company (LDC) revealed that at the end of June, the average vacancy rate in Great Britain stood at 14.6 per cent, up slightly on a year ago.
Exeter was ranked the ninth best large centre in the country, with a vacancy rate of 10.4 per cent, an improvement of 0.7 per cent on 12 months ago. The regular discrepancy between the LDC's figures and those compiled locally has been attributed to the different boundaries of the areas surveyed.
In Plymouth, 15.5 per cent of shops were empty, above the regional and national averages.
City centre manager John Harvey said: "The downward trend has continued throughout this year and I would expect to see that quicken as we move into 2013.
"Exeter's vacancy rate is under half the national average and what's particularly pleasing is that six of the areas we survey have no vacant shops at all."
Recent openings in High Street, including the John Lewis pop-up shop and fashion chain Jack Jones, are set to be followed soon by outdoor gear retailer Trespass moving into the unit formerly occupied by the Discovery Store.
The long-awaited John Lewis department store is due to open in the old Debenhams building in Sidwell Street next month.
Mr Harvey added: "We are again bucking the national trend and this is due in no small part to the investment that's gone into the city over the last decade. This has laid the foundations for increased investor confidence and helped us to create a momentum which we expect to continue.
"The investment by John Lewis is already encouraging other retailers to invest in Exeter and cementing the city's position as a first choice location west of Bristol. We have momentum on our side where a number of other centres have the opposite."
Meanwhile, a survey conducted by Autumn Fair International 2012, one of the UK's largest retail trade exhibitions, found South West retailers optimistic about the future.
Despite poor performance on the high street this summer, 92 per cent of retailers in the region are either optimistic about or undaunted by Christmas trading prospects this year and the same number see strong or steady company growth levels in 2013.