Boss denies Woolies rumours

A SHOPPING centre chief has denied claims that a new tenant is poised to take over a vacant town centre unit.

Mark Rycraft, who runs Hartlepool's Middleton Grange Shopping Centre, spoke out after rumours began circulating over the future of the former Woolworths store.

There were claims that a so-called "big name" was planning on taking over the unit, which has been empty since the demise of Woolworths in December 2008.

But Mr Rycraft insists that is not the case, and believes rumours began when a team of architects were spotted by shoppers inspecting the unit.

Mr Rycraft said: "A general survery was carried out in the former Woolworths store this week.

"Architects came on to the site to redraw the unit. But at the moment, nothing is concrete.

"It is all just speculation until something is signed."

The store, situated off the main square in Middleton Grange Shopping Centre, has been standing empty for more than two years since Woolworths collapsed after a financial crisis.

Mr Rycraft insists everything is being done to try and fill the vacancy, but said that was proving difficult in the current economic situation.

He added: "Woolworths was an important asset for Hartlepool, and its loss was quite significant, not least because of its position in the centre.

"A unit of that size is large enough to attract a retailer, but the current economic conditions are obvious in that there are not many retailers looking to expand their business.

"We are consistently promoting the unit in the retail world. It's massively important we get a retailer in there, but we have got to be careful we don't just go for any retailer.

"Whatever retailer comes in has got to be of benefit to Hartlepool, and that is key to the centre."

The store was one of the first 200 in the UK to be closed, with a total of 806 shops – including ones in Peterlee and Billingham - having the shutters pulled down by the first week of 2009.

Around 40 staff lost their jobs when the Hartlepool store closed down.