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Empty shop data an 'inaccurate' view, say chiefs.

Byline: Mike Blackburn Stockton Chief Reporter mike.blackburn@trinitymirror.com

STOCKTON is still struggling to fill empty town centre shops compared to other parts of the country, claims a new report.

But the town, which has just seen PS38m investment in its high street, is improving its vacancy rate - dropping out of the top 10 worst performing centres.

However, Stockton Council chiefs say the new figures, compiled by the Local Data Company, "paint a completely inaccurate picture of Stockton town centre" - which is now more than 80% occupied.

The LDC report claims the Northeast has seen the greatest improvement in vacancy levels compared to a year ago - but is still tied with the North-west as the worst performing region.

Compared to the end of 2014, North-east vacancy levels were down 0.5% at 16.4% with shopping centres continuing to have the highest overall vacancy rate, followed by town centres and retail parks.

Over the last five years Stockton is one of only four UK towns still in the top 20 worst performing town centres, say the LDC.

But Stockton is no longer in the top 10. Last year it ranked as the area with the fifth highest rate of empty shops in Britain, with 23.9% vacant.

Two years ago Stockton was selected by retail guru Mary Portas as one of 12 UK towns to receive a chunk of PS1.2m of Government funding earmarked as part of a trial aimed at revitalising high streets nationwide.

Stockton was chosen for its live entertainment plans at the Globe Theatre to help boost the evening leisure economy and was set to receive a PS92,000 boost to go towards making the town a shopping destination by staging regular, specialist and evening markets.

Stockton Council's Cabinet member for regeneration and transport, Councillor David Rose, hit out at the LDC report.

He said: "The Local Data Company figures paint a completely inaccurate picture of Stockton town centre, particularly as their data does not focus on the high street but instead takes in outlying areas such as industrial estates.

"Stockton town centre has recently undergone a huge physical regeneration - it looks better than ever, is easier to visit than ever and business confidence is booming too.

"The town centre is more than 80% occupied, the Castlegate Shopping Centre is more than 90% let and between April 2014 and March 2015 more than 50 new businesses established themselves in the town centre. In addition to all of this Stockton is a thriving, entrepreneurial town.

"The Enterprise Arcade on Stockton high street supports start-up businesses and Digital House on Dovecot Street is an incubator for fledgling businesses in the digital and creative sectors, many of which go on to establish themselves in units in Stockton town centre."

Matthew Hopkinson, director at the Local Data Company, said: "The good news of reducing vacancy rates has run in parallel to better economic performance within the UK, and growing retail sales and consumer confidence.

"The improving vacancy rates across the country has been seen in all location types with improvements of high street units, shopping centres and retail parks."

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Cllr |David Rose, left, says a Local Data Company report on shop vacancies paints a 'completely inaccurate picture'

Stockton's high street following its refurbishment with its new fountains in the foreground
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Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Sep 4, 2015
Words:553
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