NEWPORT has the second highest vacancy rate of all city and town centres in the UK, according to a report published yesterday.

The city has the highest vacancy rate of all the “large centres”– those with 400 or more premises– with 28.9 per cent of shops unoccupied, an increase of 1.6 per cent from the same time last year.

The Local Data Company’s latest report on vacancy rates entitled ‘Divide and Rule’ analyses more than 2,100 town and city centres, shopping centres and retail parks visited in 2013.

The report analyses both shop and leisure vacancy rates in 2013 to deliver “the most comprehensive insight on the health of Britain’s towns, retail parks and shopping centres”.

Shop vacancy rates have shown marked improvement towards the end of the year from their peak of 14.6 per cent in February 2012 to reaching below 14 per cent in December 2013 for the first time since July 2010.

The report also states that Wales has the highest national vacancy rate in the UK at 15.7 per cent.

Elgan Morgan, from the South Wales Chamber of Commerce, said: “The decline in retail in Newport has been on-going for several years with competition from Cardiff, Cwmbran and across the bridge, Cribbs Causeway. Newport needs to create a retail strategy that complements the retail mix already available in the area.

“Work also needs to be undertaken to create a customer base for Newport’s shops by increasing the number of people living in the city centre and the number non-retail workplaces.”

In response to the latest report, a spokeswoman for Newport council said: “Newport, especially the city centre, has suffered particularly badly as a result of the recession but is now on the brink of a renaissance.

“These figures were probably collected last year before the demolition of many vacant retail units in the John Frost Square area ahead of the new Friars Walk development.

“A number of major businesses, including Debenhams, Next, Topshop, Cineworld and well-known restaurants, have signalled their confidence in the scheme by signing up for units with more expected to follow.

“The major refurbishment of Newport Market and the opening of the new bus terminus in Upper Dock Street are already generating more footfall in that area.

“However, although improving the retail and leisure offering is important, we believe the revitalisation of the city centre also depends on other factors.

“That is why we were delighted to be awarded our full bid of £14.88 million from the Welsh Government’s vibrant and viable places regeneration programme. This will be used to help transform city centre buildings into new homes and businesses.

“We also hope other companies will follow the lead of Admiral, the leading insurance business, by establishing offices in the city centre. Admiral is due to relocate to the redeveloped Cambrian Centre later this year.”

Last month, the Capitol car park was demolished to clear the city centre and make it ready for the £90 million Friars Walk shopping and leisure development.

In September last year, a Dragons Den-style consultation was held by reNewport asking people to give the taskforce ideas on how the city could be improved.