Evidence that Sunderland has one of the unhealthiest city centres in the country is proof that efforts to improve the area need to keep going, says the woman in charge.
National charity The Royal Society for Public Health has ranked 70 towns and cities across England, Scotland and Wales by the impact of their high streets on the public health and wellbeing, both physical and mental.
The rankings were drawn up by looking at the kinds of businesses in each city centre and allocating a score according to their positive - or negative - effect, from +7 for leisure centres to -4 for high cost credit outlets.
The league table, which features in the new RSPH report, ‘Health on the High Street: Running on empty,’ ranks Sunderland as the fifth worst in the country, behind Grimsby in first place, then Walsall, Blackpool and Stoke. Northampton, Bolton, Wolverhampton, Huddersfield and Bradford make up the rest of the bottom ten.
Edinburgh is ranked as the country’s healthiest High Street, with Canterbury second, followed by Taunton, Shrewsbury and Cheltenham.
The RSPH says the average life expectancy for people living in areas with the top 10 healthiest high streets is two and a half years longer than for those in the 10 unhealthiest ranked areas.
Many of these issues are those which we are already aware of and which we have already agreed to focus on if the BID gets elected for a second time.Sharon Appleby
Sunderland Business Improvement District (Bid) was set up to attract investment and attract business into the city centre.
Businesses are due to vote on wether to extend the Bid’s inital five-year lifespan.
Head of Business Operations Sharon Appleby said work was under way to improve the range of businesses on offer: “These are unprecedented times in the world of retail and Sunderland is certainly not the only high street in the country to be facing challenges at the moment.
“Consumers are changing when and how they shop, so the content of this report does not come as a massive surprise.
“Many of these issues are those which we are already aware of and which we have already agreed to focus on if the BID gets elected for a second time.
“There is cause for optimism with the Chancellor recognising in his budget that the high street needs support and our plans going forward are concentrated on developing and improving the city centre, so it really is vital that Sunderland retains a BID to help us achieve those aims.”
Bridges shopping centre manager Andy Bradley added: “While it is obviously disappointing to see Sunderland on this list, at the same time it needs to be viewed in perspective as it doesn’t take into account the massive investment taking place in the city and its long-term plans for change and growth.
“Developments such as the Vaux site, the new hotel and the university medical school give us huge cause for optimism going forward, particularly with so many organisations working together who want to see the city prosper.
“We’ve seen high end retailers come into the Bridges who are doing well and we are looking forward to that trend continuing going forward.” Coun Stuart Porthouse, Sunderland City Council’s Cabinet Member for Housing and Regeneration, said: “I’ve visited other big cities recently and I do genuinely think they are worse than ours for litter and I do wonder about the evidence and methodology for these surveys.
“Having said that, and as the society notes, this council, and others across the country, need more freedom, more powers and extra resources to make more positive influences on high streets and local communities.
“We all want to see a cleaner, greener and healthier city, and the council and its partners do their upmost to achieve this.
“What’s just as important, is everybody, residents and visitors can help keep our city tidy.
“The council continues to invest in our city’s infrastructure and improve the investment climate to help create jobs and attract new business and jobs.
“But, as the society goes onto say, councils up and down the country have ‘one hand tied behind their backs’.”