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One in three shops stand empty on Hull's Whitefriargate ahead of City of Culture year

With exactly four months to go until Hull throws open its doors as the UK City of Culture for 2017 there are concerns that the thousands of expected extra visitors will find parts of the city looking like they are closed for business.

Whitefriargate in Hull Credit: ITV News Calendar

Whitefriargate is one of the city centre's biggest shopping streets, yet a third of the shops are currently unoccupied. There are 45 shops in total. 30 are open for business. 15 are closed. That means for every two stores trading, one is not, something which does raise concerns for the organisation which markets the city centre where overall around 10% of premises are empty:

It is not an ideal situation but this street is not representative of Hull city centre per sé. What we would like to see down here is good support for independents. We would like to see more food and beverage businesses and we know the interest is there. It is just making sure that we can support them, making sure they see all the opportunities, all the great events that are going to be happening in the city that will drive footfall and bring people into those units.

– Kathryn Shillito, Hull Business Improvement District

Many of the premises which are closed have been closed for a long time. Others have closed in the last few months including a high street bakery. One property agent which markets business premises on the streets has some concerns that landlords are not being realistic when setting rents:

A number of landlords are realistic and they will move with the market. Your running costs of a premises are your business rates and your rent but if you can tackle at least one of those being rent then hopefully that'll make it more of a viable option.

– Tim Powell, Scott's Property
Regeneration work ongoing on Whitefriargate Credit: ITV News Calendar

A £25m regeneration of the city centre is currently underway as the city council revamps paving and public spaces with the aim of attracting not only new people to visit the shopping areas, but also new businesses to set up there. Financial help is also being made available:

We don't imagine that overnight suddenly every single unit is going to be full. This is about a long term approach to investment to draw in private sector investment, help the current retailers down here over a number of years. We've managed to drawn in some grant funding through the Local Enterprise Partnership, about £800,000 of grant funding. It's specific for the old town and the support is looking at business start-ups and also improvements to units to make them available for end users.

– Garry Taylor, Hull City Council
Andrew Cope at his shop Demon Trading Credit: ITV News Calendar

One shop which has opened up in new premises on Whitefriargate in the last three months is Demon Trading which specialises in gothic, steam-punk and alternative clothing and other items. Its owner Andrew Cope says many of his customers have followed him his new outlet and he hopes to be able to expand the business further in the next few months:

We were a market stall for sort of two and a half years in the local Princes Quay and we just outgrew it. You know, it's just going fantastic. We need to get more shops full, whatever they are.

– Andrew Cope, Demon Trading.

As yet no more retailers have followed Andrew's lead which is why the city will pitch itself to leading national retailers at a conference in Manchester later this month. One of those who will be travelling to represent Hull at the event is the manager of the St. Stephen's Shopping Centre:

We have got lots and lots of special things but there is only one UK City of Culture 2017 and that's Hull and we think that's a massive message to take forward and you put all that together and Brand Hull becomes very attractive.

– Jim Harris, St. Stephen's Shopping Centre

Watch James Webster's exclusive report on the empty shops in Whitefriargate: