Shops need help or we’ll end up with ghost towns

NEWS COMMENT: If we must have police cuts we need to know exactly why

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It’s undeniably the case that empty units in a shopping centre or high street give a negative impression. So do rows of For Sale signs.

The shutters, hoardings and estate agents’ boards speak of struggle, of a place that has seen better days. Hardly an encouragement to people to come and spend their money.

But the economic climate has claimed a lot of victims and now too many shops lie empty, the mail piled up inside locked doors.

Today we report how Leigh Park has been revealed as having more empty shops than any other place in Britain. A survey by the retail analyst Local Data Company says 36.4 per cent of shops are empty – more than one in every three.

Other shopping centres in our area haven’t been hit as hard, but there are still a worrying number of empty spaces where shops used to be. In Portsmouth’s Commercial Road, eight per cent of units are empty, while Havant and Waterlooville are at nine per cent and Gosport and Fareham have 10 per cent unoccupied.

How they must all wish to be like Emsworth, where only two per cent of units are not in use.

The challenge for our local authorities and central government must be to regenerate the retail hearts of our communities, to try to bring a sense of vibrancy back to the high street.

A good example is how, earlier this year, Hampshire County Council pumped in £417,000 to try to make the Leigh Park’s shopping area look better, including installing new furniture.

Greater efforts have to be made – or all that will happen is that those surviving shops will also end up going to the wall.

We understand that businesses must do everything in their power to pull in customers. But help has to be forthcoming, otherwise places like Leigh Park’s shopping precinct will become decaying ghost towns.

Apart from aesthetic improvements, councils need to look at factors such as ease of parking. The introduction of clamping in a car park at Cosham, driving away shoppers, was an example of traders being kicked when they were down.

They need help, not hindrance.