SUNDERLAND city centre is holding its own as the recession continues to bite, say business bosses.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said last month’s town centre vacancy rate of 11.3 per cent was the worst figure since its nationwide survey began in July 2011.
But the situation looks more positive for Wearside, with The Bridges reporting healthy figures and the picture improving on the ground over recent years as landlords become more realistic about the challenges facing tenants.
Last week Primark opened its £15million store in the city.
Gerald Jennings, portfolio director of the North for Bridges owner Land Securities, said: “I’m pleased to report retailers in The Bridges continue to trade well, despite a challenging economic backdrop, and because of this we are able to attract brand new retailers into the centre and existing retailers are looking for more space.
“The centre’s void rate currently stands at less than two per cent, with some further lettings in hand and deploying a robust asset management strategy that will continue to attract the right retailers to The Bridges, meaning we will be approaching 2013 in the strongest position.”
Harry Collinson, chairman of the Sunderland City Centre Traders’ Association, said the situation had improved recently, with properties available on more favourable terms.
“It is not as bad as it was five years ago,” he said.
“The Bridges has a very good retention rate for business and I think people are starting to use the secondary locations again.
“Landlords are realising they have to offer more short-term leases, six or seven years rather than 15, so the market place is becoming more competitive.”
BRC director general Stephen Robertson said the new figures confirmed the financial challenges for both customers and retailers were far from over. He renewed a call for Chancellor George Osborne to freeze business rates, which are set to increase by 2.6 per cent in April.
“Many retailers are battling stagnating sales and rising costs, and next year’s threatened business rates increase can only make matters worse,” said Mr Robertson.
“If the Government wants to breathe life back into our town centres and ensure the retail industry can play its full role in job creation, it needs to freeze rates in 2013.”