SUNDERLAND has missed out on £100,000 in Government cash aimed at boosting business – because it said the city does not have enough empty shops and offices.
The Government revealed five North East councils were among 100 towns and cities to share in a £10million hand-out aimed at bringing empty properties back into use.
Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Darlington, Hartlepool and North Tyneside will each receive £100,000 from the High Street Innovation Fund.
However, Sunderland is not ranked as among the 100 worst local authority areas in the country for vacant commercial properties, despite a report last month which revealed nearly one in four shops in the city centre now stands empty.
Shoppers in Sunderland said they were stunned the city didn’t qualify for a slice of the cash.
Mum-of-one Carol Wood, 38, of Thorney Close, said: “There are more than enough closed shops. Some areas of the city centre, like where Joplings used to be, are like a ghost town now. No-one goes there because so many of the shops are closed.”
Figures released by the Local Data Company show 23.6 per cent of shops in the city centre are vacant, compared to a national average of 14.3 per cent, making the city the tenth worst in the country.
But, it seems Wearside’s successful out-of town business parks, such as Doxford International, may have cost the city the cash from the High Street Innovation Fund.
Government bosses used the National Non-Domestic Rate, which provides information on the total number of empty non-residential properties in a local authority area, to decide which 100 councils would qualify.
The worst 100 had a proportion of commercial properties standing empty from more than 33 per cent to just over 16 per cent. Sunderland, with a vacancy rate of 15.7 per cent, just missed out.
The news of missing out on a slice of cash came as the city applied to become one of 12 centres chosen as pilot areas for a new scheme headed by TV shops guru Mary Portas.
Applications to take part in the Portas scheme has now closed.
Harry Collinson, of Collinson’s Jewellers, is chairman of the newly-formed Sunderland City Centre Trader’s Association.
There was no point worrying about what the city missed out on, he said. The important thing was to focus on positive developments, such as the Portas Pilot application.
He said: “We need to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and move on.
“I think becoming a Portas Pilot would be quite exciting for us, as a traders’ association and as a city, but the competition is going to be tough.”
The Echo reported how Seaham has submitted a bid to become a Portas Pilot area, including a flash mob dance event which has become an internet video sensation.