The number of empty shops has fallen for the first time in consecutive quarters since 2016.

Figures from the British Retail Consortium and Local Data Company show that 14.1% of shops now lie empty, down from 14.5% last year and 14.4% last quarter.

It is the first time since the spring of 2016 that the overall vacancy rate has fallen in consecutive quarters and is the biggest quarter-on-quarter decline since the consortium started collecting the data in 2015.

However, there are still far more empty shops than there were before the coronavirus outbreak began, when the vacancy rate stood at about 12%.

Vacancy rates at all types of retail location improved in the first quarter. Just over two years ago, about 14% of shops in Britain’s malls were unoccupied, whereas 19% of them are now. But that is down from 19.1% in December and from 19.4% last summer.

Vacancy rates on high streets fell to 14.1%, having peaked at 14.5% in the second quarter of last year. Retail parks remain the most popular destination for retailers, with an average vacancy rate of 10.6%, down from 11.5% a year ago.

The biggest fall in vacancy rates came in the North East but, at 18.8%, the region still has the highest proportion of boarded-up stores in the country. In London, the vacancy rate nudged up to 11.1% from 11%, although it remains the region with the smallest proportion of shuttered shops.