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  1. ITV Report

Vacant shops on North East high streets up 15% in three years

There are 2200 empty shops in the Tyne Tees region, according to an investigation by the ITV's Tonight programme. Credit: ITV News

The number of vacant shops in the North East and North Yorkshire has increased by more than 15% in the past three years, an investigation by ITV’s Tonight programme has found.

Almost 14% of the region’s shopping premises are empty and a third of vacant stores have been unoccupied for more than three years. Nationally, 12% of shops are vacant.

In research conducted in conjunction with the Local Data Company, Tonight also found that the total number of people visiting Britain’s high streets has fallen by 20% in the past decade, as consumers turn to online shopping and retailers struggle with rising costs and business rates.

In the last five years alone, almost 400 shops in the North East and North Yorkshire have been converted into housing, offices or warehouse space.

Credit: ITV News

Last week the British Retail Consortium dubbed 2019 the “worst year on record” for the industry.

Jake Berry, Minister for the northern powerhouse and local growth, said the government was doubling small business rate relief with “a huge reduction next year”.

I don’t like this talk of the death of the high street. I think it’s far too pessimistic… Go to your local high street. I think you will be very surprised. Your viewers will be very surprised about how vibrant it still is, but we have to acknowledge that the way people are shopping is changing.

– Jake Berry

In Morpeth, in Northumberland, where vacancy rates are 7%, businesses say the high street is anything but dead.

Harry Hall opened his cafe and wine bar last Spring. Like the coffee and cake he serves, he says if it's not good enough people won't come back.

And as our reporter Katie Cole found when she visited Morpeth, not all high streets are beset with problems.

Morpeth is a high street that believes it has a future. Business owners describe the town as vibrant, active and healthy and there was a real sense that the shopkeepers here wanted each other to succeed.

I met traders who had been there for years, like Ken Stait who runs a photography business. While he's had to adapt the way he works as digital technology because ever more important, Ken says the focus on customer service is what keeps him in business.

There was also real optimism from new traders, like Harry Hall who set up a coffee and wine bar last Spring. Trendy and unique, he aims to give his customers an experience. As with the coffee and cake he serves, Harry says if the experience isn’t good, shoppers won’t come back.

The key to Morpeth’s success is clear enough; blocking out of town shopping developments and free parking. Businesses in the town know they are not immune from troubles on the high street but as shopping habits change they seem focused on creating an experience, not just selling things.

– Katie Cole

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But the government says it is committed to acting to save those parts of the high street which are struggling. Jake Berry said:

There's a future high street fund, which is a specific fund dedicated to game-changing developments on high streets…. There's also the town's fund itself where we're looking to do town deals with a hundred areas who've been allocated up to 25 million pounds…

– Jake Berry

Middlesbrough, Scarborough, Loftus and Blyth Town Centre are among the areas which will benefit from the Future High Street Fund.