HARTLEPOOL’S MP says more should be done to breathe new life into the high street and to improve the state of its shop vacancies.
MP Iain Wright spoke out about the number of shops left empty in Hartlepool’s streets and in Middleton Grange Shopping Centre on the day the British Retail Consortium (BRC) released figures showing that one in every eight British stores is now empty – a rate of 11.9 per cent.
But he believes Hartlepool’s rate is much higher than the national figure. He said: “I think our high street is struggling. It’s a consequence of online shopping, the fact that we have three big supermarkets, and the general economic condition of the town with people having less money to spend.
“In terms of what can be done I think vacant shop units could be opened to small businesses for reasonable rents or rent free periods, or to artists or community groups rather than being stood empty.”
Despite the gloomy picture, Mark Rycraft, Middleton Grange Shopping Centre manager, said his staff are doing all they can to get retailers to set up shop, and to remain in the complex. He said: “There are very few retailers expanding or relocating but we have agents who are in discussions with retailers to get them to Hartlepool.
“The landlord incurs costs while units are vacant so it is the last thing it wants.
“It has invested £3m over the last few years in the centre to make it more appealing and is replacing lighting and ceilings at a cost of over £1m.
“There are a lot of negotiations behind the scenes to continually renew leases.
“We were very proud of the fact that while they were closing outlets elsewhere across the country; Peacocks, The Officers Club, Bonmarche and Clintons all pledged to continue in Middleton Grange.
“We have had two retailers double their outlets in the last year in Home Bargains and Sports Direct and the landlord has helped finance a number of shop fits to make the centre attractive to retailers.”
The percentage of UK shop vacancies in April worsened from 10.9 per cent in January, and was the highest rate since the BRC survey began in 2011.
The Mail previously reported how Hartlepool was given a £100,000 Government boost as part of a celebrity Mary Portas’ bid to revamp the country’s high streets, but missed out on a funding boost set aside to boost ailing trading areas.