RETAILERS have enjoyed one of their best trading days of the year as bargain hunters flocked to shopping centres around the region for the Boxing Day sales.

Hundreds of people queued outside their favourite stores from 5am to get the best deals, with North-East shopping centres reporting a huge increase in visitors and sales compared to previous years.

One of the longest early morning queues was at The Bridges shopping centre in Sunderland, where more than 300 people were waiting when the centre opened its doors at 5am.

Kevin Rusby, operations manager of The Bridges, said: “December has been phenomenal, really busy and we welcomed 1.6 million people through the centre.

“In the week leading up to Christmas our malls were heaving with a massive 536,000 festive shoppers.”

He added: “There’s a great buzz in the centre today, bargain hunters are definitely out in force looking for those deals.”

In Darlington, the streets were filled families on the lookout for the best deals, with retailers reporting some of their best trading figures of the year.

Susan Young, centre manager at the Cornmill shopping centre, said: “We’ve had a very busy day, even by typical Boxing Day standards.

“There’s been a constant flow of customers all day and a real buzz around the malls with many of our retailers reporting a hectic day on the tills.

“We’re really encouraged by how busy the Christmas period has been overall and we hope this trend continues throughout the January sales.”

Retail parks and town centres in Teesside also reported increased footfall and sales figures.

Teesside Park, near Stockton, was said to be extremely busy with long tailbacks for cars going in and out, and shoppers finding it difficult to park.

Security staff at Wellington Square shopping centre in Stockton said it had been busier than expected and the top level of the car park had to be opened to accommodate unprecedented demand.

Head of security Jim Lawder said: “It is always busy on Boxing Day but this is more unusually busy than most years.”

Across the UK, sales records for Boxing Day were smashed, with average footfall in British high streets up by 21.6 per cent.

In London forecasters predicted that more than £50m would be spent on just three streets - Bond Street, Regent Street and Oxford Street – fuelled by wealthy Chinese, Middle Eastern and Nigerian shoppers.