Empty shop report damned by chiefs

Empty shops in and around Blackpool town centre

Empty shops in and around Blackpool town centre

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FIGURES which suggest Blackpool has one of the highest rates of empty shops in the North West have once again been dismissed as inaccurate by town centre chiefs.

The survey by The Local Data Company (LDC) suggests more than a quarter of shops – 26.6 per cent – are now vacant, a drop of 0.9 percent in the past six months.

The figure puts Blackpool as having one of the highest levels in the North West below Eccles and Stockport which have more then 30 per cent of stores unoccupied.

The LDC said weak consumer confidence, rising unemployment and growing online sales is to blame for businesses closing.

But Les Ball, town centre Bid business support manager, has questioned the methodology used by LDC.

He said: “We conduct our own survey every month and in January, of Blackpool’s 668 town centre businesses, just 64 or 9.6 per cent were empty.

“This is a slight rise but we don’t believe it’s a major concern.

“I believe the LCD use an outdated definition of what constitutes a town centre so count buildings outside the core area.

“Lots of good work is going on in Blackpool to support and encourage new businesses in what is a very tough financial climate.

“We have the new Sainsbury’s development to look forward to and the new council building which is bringing hundreds of workers into the town centre.

“As a town Blackpool is not standing still.”

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Blackpool has 370 ground floor retail premises, even with 64 of these empty, the figure for vacant shops remains at 17 per cent according to Blackpool Bid figures.

And individual stores say they have no cause for concern.

John Holt (pictured), manager of Houndshill said: “Empty shops are a problem nationally but Houndshill is certainly not doing too badly.

“We have about 10 per cent of units vacant because we lost Barratts and Jane Norman, but we have agents actively speaking to new clients so we are aren’t too worried.

“The rest of the town is a concern but we would love to see the vacancy rate come down, I’m hoping this will happen when all the development work is complete.”

In Lytham five per cent of the shops are empty according to the report.

Nationally, UK vacant figures have remain stable in the past six months at 14.3 per cent.

A number of high street chains have experienced difficulties during 2011 including Focus DIY, Barratts, Hawkin’s Bazaar, Best Buy, Comet, Thorntons, HMV, Habitat, Jane Norman and TJ Hughes.

But Gordon Marsden, MP for Blackpool South and Labour’s shadow minister for Regional Growth, said he found the figures a cause for concern.

He said: “The latest statistics spell out the bleak reality for many towns and shopping centres across the region.

“The collapse in confidence in the Government’s economic approach is rippling out to empty shopfronts especially in smaller towns and cities in the area.”