BURNLEY town centre shops have managed to stay open despite the recession, according to a new report.
The figures, released by the Local Data Company, show that in October 19.7% of 334 shop premises surveyed were vacant. Although the rate is above the national average of 14.2%, Burnley has significantly less empty shops than nearby Blackburn or Accrington.
But Burnley Council bosses said their own figures, which cover a smaller area in the town centre, show only 13% of shops are currently empty and added the town’s retail sector had coped reasonably well with the economic downturn.
Coun. Martin Smith, the council’s Executive member responsible for town centre strategy, said: “This survey reflects the fact Burnley has a vibrant town centre with a good range of shops and places to eat and drink. The Local Data Company report takes in a wider area than the town centre as we would recognise it. Our own figures for the town centre show a vacancy rate of around 13%.
“Burnley has managed to survive the recession better than a lot of other town and cities in terms of keeping our shops open for business. If a business does close, Woolworths for example, other businesses, such as Peacocks which is about to open on the site, have stepped in. That way we’ve avoided the ‘dead space’ feel of other towns which puts off visitors.
“We’ve got plenty of reasons to be confident for the future. Plans for the Curzon Street shopping centre, which will be a massive boost for the town and attract even more shoppers into Burnley, have recently been submitted and are set to be decided shortly. Next and Primark have already signed up for the two largest units in the centre and we’re confident other big names will join them. The market hall offers a wide range of goods from independent operators.”
But Coun. Smith acknowledged the town faced tough times ahead and vowed to work hard to make sure Burnley does not suffer the same fate as some of the worst-hit areas.
He added: “Burnley Council will continue to work with partners such as the Chamber of Trade. We know there are tough times ahead and Burnley will face the same challenges as many other towns and cities across the country. We will continue to work hard to make sure Burnley town centre offers the kind of shops that people want so we can bring in shoppers and boost the local economy.”
The highest shop vacancy rate in the North-West was found to be in Runcorn and Morecambe where almost a third of town centre shops are empty.
MP Gordon Birtwistle recently gave his backing to the Federation of Small Businesses’ Keep Trade Local campaign in a bid to keep shoppers in Burnley.