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Dundee city centre: One year of tracking retail vacancy rates

It's now been one year since we started tracking the vacancy rates of Dundee city centre - what has changed in that time?
Lesley-Anne Kelly
Dundee shopping centres shown against bar chart depicting vacancy rates for latest update of the High Street Tracker.
How have the high streets and shopping centres changed in Dundee? Graphic by Michael McCosh.

One year ago today we first launched the high street tracking project.

Starting out in Dundee and Aberdeen, we then added Perth and Inverness to the project in December. This means we’re now tracking high street data in half of Scotland’s cities to monitor how the shops in our cities are evolving.

In that time we’ve carried out 12 on foot censuses across those four cities.

We recently got back out onto the streets of Dundee to get the latest data.

So what does the latest data show?

  • Since we started tracking the data in June 2023 the overall vacancy rate across the high streets has increased by 4.6 percentage points from 15% to 19.6%
  • Vacancy rates in the shopping centres has decreased by from 29.9% to 25.8% – a 4.1 percentage point drop

Research completed as part of this project found that shopping centres are overwhelmingly occupied by chains. In contrast, high street units are much more likely to be taken up by independent businesses.

This data indicates that it is likely independent businesses that are struggling more.

The picture today

Our high street tracker monitors units across 11 key high street areas – Castle Street, Commercial Street, Crichton Street, Exchange Street, High Street (including the City Square area), Murraygate, Nethergate, Perth Road, Reform Street, Whitehall Street and Reform Street.

Whereas our shopping centre tracker looks at units in both the Overgate and the Wellgate.

Food and drink is still king

Across the high streets food and drink units remain the largest proportion. With 35.3% of spaces occupied by some kind of eatery.

This is closely followed by shopping units at 30.5%, with hair and beauty in third place at 13.4%.

Exchange Street has the highest proportion of food and drink units. Half of the occupied spaces on Exchange Street are taken up by restaurants, cafes, and coffee shops.

Dundee’s Exchange Street. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson

What about the shopping centres?

Occupancy levels at the Overgate have remained fairly stable over the past year. The vacancy rate has increased slightly from 12% last year to 13.2% now.

The Wellgate has seen really encouraging growth since the start of the project. With empty units decreasing by 11.6 percentage points from 55.8% to 44.2%.

What’s changed?

Every time we see a Dundee shop change status we keep a log of it.

Significant closures since our last census include:

However on the positive side of things there have been several exciting new businesses setting up shop.

Popular Perth Road vintage store SookSouk announced it was closing in March but then re-opened 49 days later due to the strength of support from the local community.

Sharyn Farnan outside her premises on Perth Road, Dundee. Supplied by SookSouk

A new restaurant – Eastfield – opened in a Perth Road unit. The premises had been vacant for more than four and a half years and was one of the subjects of our Who Owns the High Street investigation.

A large unit on Commercial Street, previously occupied by Shaheen Indian restaurant and has been vacant for almost three years, has now been occupied by Cake or Dice, a community board game cafe.

Coming soon

We don’t update any changes on our trackers until the business has commenced operation in the unit but there are several big changes in the pipeline.

The much anticipated Wagamamas is coming soon to Whitehall Street in the unit formerly occupied by Mozzas. The company hopes to open by the end of July.

How Wagamama may look on Whitehall Street
How the new Dundee Wagamama restaurant would look, according to the plans lodged with the council. Image: Bradley Architecture

Workers are currently fitting out the former Mazaj Tandoori unit on Reform Street as a Heavenly Desserts. They plan to open their doors mid July.

Bethany Clark, at just 21 years old, has taken over a unit on Exchange Street that was most recently occupied by Big Dog Books and plans to turn it into Honeydew Beauty Studios.

What’s being done to help?

Since we launched the High Street Tracking project, our approach has been proactive. We aim not only to monitor the data but also to actively participate in changing it.

In February, we launched a series of content that examines the specific issues facing Dundee City Centre. You can read it here.

As part of this series we investigated the owners of the most persistently vacant units to shine a light on where the accountability lies.

In May, we brought together readers, local business owners, academics, and high street regeneration experts for a High Street Summit event at our offices in Dundee to have a constructive debate on how to tackle the issues facing businesses in Dundee.

The Courier’s High Street Summit event featured The Courier editor David Clegg, Matt Colledge of Altrincham Forward, Dundee City Council leader John Alexander, Ron Smith of Glamis Investments, urban planning expert Dr Husam Alwaer and Dundee and Angus Chamber of Commerce president Kelly-Anne Fairweather. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson

Councillor John Alexander, leader of Dundee City Council was also present at the event and answered questions from the audience.

He announced at the event that his administration had set aside £200,000 to assist in additional street cleaning for the high streets as well as looking at how they can make some of the longer term vacant units less of an eyesore.

The UK government recently announced that Dundee will receive a £20m share of their levelling up fund, with part of it allocated towards high street regeneration.

The Courier data journalism team alongside business reporter Paul Malik produced a forty page white paper compiling all of our research so far which you can download here.

Dundee City Council leader John Alexander said: “There is a huge effort being undertaken by the council and its partners to help improve Dundee City Centre and we can be under no illusions about the scale of the task at hand, which is affecting every city centre.

Leader of Dundee City Council John Alexander on the panel. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson

“Recent announcements on funding to enhance the city centre, our work on levelling up funding and other soon-to-complete developments such as BT will all help.

“Our long-term City Centre Strategic Investment Plan is already bringing about measures to improve the environment and we are also directing funds to help in clean-up actions.

“We are working closely with property agents and owners. Interest is developing in a number of vacant units and planning applications have been submitted for several locations.

“The High Street Tracker is a useful tool to assist us all to focus on ensuring that improvements can be put in place for the benefit of visitors and locals alike.

“We want to make the city a better place for everyone, and an attractive and welcoming City Centre is an important component of that.”

Following approval of the CCSIP in October 2022, several developments are already in motion.

These include the commercial waste project, Commercial Street enhancement, city lights city nights including an illuminated sign at Exchange Street, enhancements to New Inn Entry, new residential developments at various locations and the green transport hub and spokes at the Bell Street multi-storey car park.


The project conducted an initial in-person census at the start in May and June of 2023. We then conducted further censuses in October 2023, February 2024 and June 2024.

Whenever our reporters file stories on changes to units we update the data. The data is always accurate based on the best available information we have.

We need your help!

The Courier data team collects all the data manually in our high street and shopping centre trackers. The data is continuously updated whenever we notice any changes but it’s possible we may miss something.

We appreciate all the support we’ve received for our trackers so far. We would really appreciate it if you would like to help us keep it up to date.

If you notice any openings or closures, please inform us using the form below. You can also provide more accurate information on unit closing dates or the previous business occupying a unit through the same form.

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