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One in five shops are empty, says survey
10:42am Wednesday 5th September 2012 in News
TOO many shops and a growing North-South divide are leading to vacant shops, analysts said last night, following figures saying one in five North-East shops are empty.
The report by the Local Data Company made depressing reading for the region, with Middlesbrough, Stockton and Hartlepool all in the top ten for the highest proportion of shop vacancies for towns of their size.
North Yorkshire fared far better, with York and Harrogate both among the ten towns and cities with the fewest empty retail units.
The report, called Too Many Shops, provided insight and analysis on the factors creating an increase in the number of empty shops, as well as performance by region and town.
The data was derived from 506 town centres and 145,000 shops that it visited between January to June.
The report said 26.7 per cent of shops in Middlesbrough were empty, making it fifth worst in the large towns category, while the figures for Stockton and Hartlepool were similarly bleak, at 26.8 per cent and 28.8 per cent, putting them ninth and fourth-worst respectively among the medium- sized towns.
By contrast, York has only 9.6 per cent of empty retail units, while Harrogate has only 10.6 per cent, putting them sixth and seventh in the large towns with the least retail units empty. The report urges ministers to make it easier for vacant shops to be used for alternative purposes, after figures showed the average vacancy rate rose to 14.6 per cent at the end of June, up from 14.3 per cent six months ago.
The report also found the North-South divide was widening, with vacancy rates of 18.5 per cent in Wales, the Midlands and the North and 16.7 per cent in Scotland, compared to 12.7 per cent across London and the South.
The findings came despite the Government’s high-profile measures to help shops, as high streets continue to be hit by the increasing popularity of shopping online and out-oftown retail parks.
Councillor Mike Smith, Stockton Borough Council’s cabinet member for regeneration and transport, said: “We are at the very start of our ambitious £38m investment programme through both council funding or privatesector money and grants.
“This huge investment is being complemented by the fact Stockton was chosen as one of the initial 12 Portas Pilot schemes, and the newly formed Stockton Town Team are working with the council, businesses and retailers to boost the town centre economy.”
Hartlepool mayor Stuart Drummond said: “We are looking at putting together a retail strategy, perhaps involving some data and analysis from one of the universities.
We have got £100,000 from a recent bid and we have a group who are looking at pro-active ideas about how we can improve the town centre.
“We should also remember that the area around the marina is thriving – it is not all doom and gloom.”
Middlesbrough Council declined to comment.