SHOCKING new figures have revealed that Hartlepool is one of the worst-hit towns in the country for stores shutting up shop.
Grim statistics from the Local Data Company (LDC) show that 29 per cent of the town’s shops lie empty, leaving it second place behind similar-sized towns Dudley, in the West Midlands, and Morecambe, in Lancashire, which have 30 per cent vacancy rates.
Darab Rezai, owner of the Marco Polo restaurant in York Road, urged fellow business people, councillors and MP Iain Wright to get together to formulate a plan to improve Hartlepool’s shopping future.
He raised concerns about the growing numbers of empty shops back in 2009, and spoke out again after the LDC figures showed Hartlepool in a bad light.
“I think Hartlepool is being forgotten about,” he told the Mail.
“It should not be the second worst place in the country for shops closing. We’ve got all the resources here for shops to be a success.
“We need to get together and put a positive attitude towards this problem and we should be able to turn things around.
“We could discuss free parking or incentives for tenants to have a rate-free period. There are lots of ideas we could discuss. We shouldn’t sit back until things get worse.”
A spokesman for LDC, which tracks 800 town centres across the UK making daily checks at which shops have closed, feared some towns were “beyond saving” and empty shops will have to be replaced with housing or GP surgeries.
He said the decline could be blamed on a number of issues, ranging from families cutting back on spending because of the economic downturn to the increase in internet shopping.
Retailers facing a hike of up to 4.6 per cent in business rates would also have a negative effect.
The spokesman said: “They will never go back to pre-recessionary times. Online sales now account for nine per cent of all retail sales while the growth of vast out-of-town retail parks with free parking means many families no longer visit town centres.”
Hartlepool MP Iain Wright said: “I realise the economic difficulties that people face, the difficulties businesses are facing and the changes in the way people are shopping.
“I would welcome a meeting between business people, the council and myself to see what can be done.”