Chiefs in Walsall today came out fighting after it emerged more shops are standing empty in the town than virtually any other in the UK.
The town has been placed among the top 10 for vacant stores nationwide, as a report claims more than one in four- or 28.6 per cent – are empty.
The latest vacancy report from the Local Data Company shows that store vacancies stand at 18.3 per cent across the region, or nearly one in five of all shops in the West Midlands – the third worst region after the North East and North West.
Leader of Walsall Council Mike Bird today said the town was suffering from competition from biggest rivals in the region, but insisted major regeneration schemes were due to begin in the town centre which would be the ‘envy’ of other towns.
“It is not surprising,” he said.
“The fact that internet shopping is here to stay is certainly one of the major facts.
“We are one of the few centres that have two major schemes due to kick off with Primark and the St Matthew’s Quarter development.
“They are two major investments that will be the envy of other towns.”
The multi-million pound transformation of Old Square Shopping Centre, which will see a new Primark and Co-op open, is due to begin by the end of November and create 150 new jobs.
Planning permission has also been given to the £12 million St Matthew’s Quarter development, set to bring 200 new jobs.
Plans for two rival multi-million pound cinema complexes in the town centre – to include restaurants, cafes and bars – have also been passed.
The Local Data Company report revealed Dudley, which topped the list of worst-performing small town centres in an earlier LDC report this year, has improved slightly but is still sixth worst – as its shop vacancy rate fell from 32.4 per cent to 27.5 per cent.
The figures highlight a north-south divide, with most of the worst performing centres for vacant shops north of the Watford Gap, and nearly all the best performers in the south.
Matthew Hopkinson, director at the Local Data Company, said: “This report shows that whilst the rise of empty shops has stalled it still remains stubbornly high for many towns up and down the country.”