Report says 20% of Letchworth town centre shops are empty
ONE in five shops are empty in Letchworth GC town centre, according to a report published this week.
The Local Data Company (LDC) surveyed more than 700 town centres in the UK during 2011 and when visiting Letchworth GC found the town centre’s shop vacancy rate was 20 per cent.
The figure was the second highest in the East of England behind Dunstable, with a rate of 22 per cent.
In Stevenage town centre 14 per cent of shops are said to be empty, with seven per cent recorded by LDC in Stevenage Old Town.
Hitchin remains below the average vacancy rate in England of just over 12 per cent, with LDC recording a figure of nine per cent. Baldock town centre was not visited.
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Responding to the report, Letchworth town centre manager Lee Boswell said: “The LDC have managed, again, to bring an awareness to a national problem. It is a shame that certain towns get singled out but at least it keeps the plight of the high street in the national conscience.
“If central government stick to their assertions that high streets are at the core of their new localism agenda and actually deliver against these ideals then maybe we can start to make in-roads into vacancy rates. Let’s start by reversing the decision to increase business rates by 5.6 per cent.”
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Cllr Tom Brindley, North Hertfordshire District Council portfolio holder for planning, transport and enterprise, said the council is “acutely aware of the issue with empty shops in Letchworth” and pointed to decisions to not introduce parking charges on Sundays, evening and bank holidays and improving car parks in the town as proof of their commitment. He added: “Letchworth has a high proportion of small and independent shops which give the town its special flavour but can also be vulnerable in an economic downturn.
“The town centre is an attractive place to visit thanks to the major regeneration works by Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation and I would urge people to come back to Letchworth and give its shops a chance.”
Stevenage town centre manager Tracey Parry believed the report was an “accurate reflection” of the situation in Stevenage although added that empty shops earmarked for development such as Park Place may distort figures.
“Stevenage is a long long way away from being described as a failing high street”, she said.
“Yes we do have some empty premises but we also have lots of premises which are still full and there are lots of successes despite the economic climate.”
Keith Hoskins, Hitchin town centre manager, said the LCD report only provides “a snapshot of a single day” and therefore does not take into account empty shops which may have been leased but not occupied.
He added: “The strength of Hitchin is it has a good strong independent trade and of course the market is resurgent.”