HARTLEPOOL was today revealed as one of the worst towns in the country for its number of empty shops.
It ranks third-worst of Great Britain’s medium-sized towns for vacancy rates.
The Shop Vacancy Report, carried out by retail analysts the Local Data Company, showed 27.9 per cent of all Hartlepool’s town centre shops were empty during the survey conducted between January and June this year.
Stockton was the fourth-worst performer among Great Britain’s large town centres, with 27.4 per cent of its shops empty.
One thousand towns and cities were studied, and 196,000 shops surveyed.
Today, Hartlepool officials said they were “swimming against the tide” because their town centre was having to compete with major rivals such as Teesside Park, the MetroCentre and internet shopping.
Mayor Stuart Drummond said: “We can showcase Hartlepool to any retailer that might want to come here, and we can try to incentivise people.
“We keep trying as a council, but it is ultimately down to commercial decisions which are out of our hands.
“People are a lot more mobile these days and go to the MetroCentre and Teesside Park.
“Internet shopping also makes it difficult, but not just in Hartlepool. I think we are swimming against the tide.”
He said the results of the study did not “make for great reading”, but he added: “I am not particularly surprised.
“I think everyone knows we are suffering from a lot of empty properties in the town centre. I have been heading a group looking at empty buildings, not just shops, with varying levels of success. We are trying to work with the owners of the Middleton Grange Shopping Centre to look at ways of attracting some of the high street retailers into town.
“But it is proving difficult in the current economic climate.”
Pam Hargreaves, who chairs the town branch of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “We appreciate the difficulty that the local authority and Hartlepool has in attracting bigger retailers.
“But I think there is scope to look at how Hartlepool could develop a unique offer.
“We could encourage more individual traders and retailers. We want to build on the success of the indoor market scheme and a bigger promotion of Buy Local.
“We want more work undertaken with local businesses to help support them in a difficult and challenging time.”
Matthew Hopkinson, director at the Local Data Company, said: “The stark reality is that Great Britain has too many shops in the wrong locations and of the wrong size.”