Wolverhampton’s retail sector has been worse hit by the economic downturn than any other city, according to new research.

The latest Local Data Company (LDC) report shows empty units nationally have continued to increase over the last two quarters, although at a lesser rate that before. According to data collected between July and December 2009, 12.4 per cent of shops stand empty across the UK, representing an increase of 25 per cent over previous figure of 10 per cent from June 2009. The first half of 2009 saw vacancies increase by 100 per cent.

Of the country’s large retail centres, Wolverhamptonhas been hit the worst with 23.9 per cent of its shops standing empty.

Bradford, Middlesborough and Sheffield follow closely behind while Margate tops the table of medium sized centres with 27.2 per cent of shops empty.

Central London has held up well, staying around the national average, while centres on the outskirts of the capital - around Uxbridge and Essex - have dipped below 10 per cent, signaling hopes that the worst is now over.

Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation, said: “The fact of the matter is that Brits now do a lot more shopping over the web, so we’re seeing a fundamental reshaping of high streets. The next government will need to balance cuts in spending with ideas for reinvigorating regions that have suffered from years of underinvestment. This doesn’t mean simply building more shops, but a thorough re-evaluation of what we need and how we take existing empty properties and use them for other things. We must encourage councils to make it easier for people to convert shops and people must accept that we won’t go back to the high streets of yesteryear.”