ONE in four shops in Sunderland city centre now stands empty.
Figures released by the Local Data Company (LDC) show 23.6 per cent of shops in Sunderland city centre are vacant, up almost three per cent in six months.
The LDC report come after think-tank Centre for Cities found Sunderland had a “weak urban core”, one of the reasons experts listed it in the top five UK cities most vulnerable to unemployment.
It also comes two days before Sunderland marks 20 years since receiving official “city” status.
The national average of empty shops is 14.3 per cent according to the LDC’s review of vacancy figures for more than 700 centres. The city is 10th in the rankings.
Sunderland City Council leader Paul Watson said every effort was being made to nurture trade in the city centre – and praised the Echo for its help in encouraging more shoppers to spend their money in Wearside.
He said: “Empty shops are a problem across the country, not only in large centres like Sunderland but also medium and small centres. Examples of centres where the proportion of vacancies has decreased are few and far between.
“The council has a range of measures to support new independent retailers in the city centre, including mentoring, business advice, financial support towards start up costs and promotional and marketing support.
“We are fairly unique in this approach. Also, in light of the increase in online trading we are working on a programme to ensure more of our city centre businesses are retailing online.
He added: “Sunderland city centre includes a good mix of international retailers, local chains and specialist independent shops. These retailers will soon be recognised with the Retail Awards, of which the City Council is delighted to be working in partnership with the Sunderland Echo and others to support.
“On average 1.6 million shoppers visit the Bridges each month. The Bridges has a below-national-average void rate which currently stands at just 1.5 per cent.”
Coun Watson said the national economic picture had an impact on people’s tendency to spend, with obvious impacts on the level of vacant shops.
He said technological factors such as growth in internet online shopping also had a part to play in the problems with shop vacancies.
TJ Hughes and shoe retailer Barratts, have both gone into administration in the past 12 months.
But Coun Watson said there was hope on the horizon for Sunderland.
He said: “There will be opportunities for Sunderland with the £15million expansion of the Bridges, due for completion in Spring 2013, and going forward, the development of the Vaux site, which will attract people into the city centre to live, work and, of course, shop.”
Shopper Mary McIntyre, 61, of Roker, said: “The city centre’s not like it used to be in it’s hey-day. It all looks pretty rundown now. I do most of my shopping at Asda.”
Jean Simpson, 64, of Grangetown, added: “I like to go to the MetroCentre or the Bridges. There’s not many shops on the big streets any more.”