BOLTON has one of the highest rates of empty shops in the country, according to new figures.

Almost one in four shops in the town is lying vacant, which is the sixth worst in the United Kingdom, according to statistics released by the Local Data Company (LDC).

But while the leader of Bolton Council says it is doing everything it can to fill the empty units, the main opposition leader says the statistics are shocking and it is time to ‘flatten the grot spots’.

Cllr Cliff Morris, leader of Bolton Council, said: “The council is doing everything it can to support local businesses and get vacant shops filled.

“A lot of businesses have moved into the Market Place, which is doing wonderfully well.

“And Middlebrook is also fully occupied as well, which is not included in these figures.”

However, Tory leader, Cllr David Greenhalgh said: “These are shocking statistics for Bolton. Sadly it’s not just vacant shops, it’s that every other shop is a charity or pound shop, betting shop or pawnbrokers.

“We have to ask ourselves what image the town has when potential investors visit.

“Many of our main arterial routes into the town, such as Bank Street and Manchester Road, are a disgrace and an embarrassment.

“We need to sort out these grot spots. Flatten them and grass them over for the time being until plans are developed.”

The figures come in the wake of the recent closure of high profile town centre stores BHS, Beales and Prestons of Bolton.

The number of vacant shops in the town centre is now more than double the average vacancy rate in England and almost 10 per cent higher than the average vacancies in the North West for 2016. The total number of town centres included in the analysis was 650.

The worst performing town centre was Burslem, followed by Newport, Dewsbury, Wigan, and Stockport.

Cllr Greenhalgh said: “Bolton also once prided itself in its host of independent retailers in the town, which have been all but lost.

“This is a hard battle, and those councils who fight for their town centres, and compete to attract new shops, will survive, and those who don’t will fall by the wayside and deteriorate further.”

However, Cllr Morris said: “In the town centre we have three supermarkets, and we are looking at what can be done at Crompton Place and with the old Beales building.

“If you drive along Deane Road or Halliwell Road then all the shops along there seem to be full as well.”

Bolton’s figure has improved by 2.3 per cent since last year, and bosses at the redeveloped Market Place Shopping centre believe the town is moving in the right direction.

Nikki Wilson-Cook, centre manager, said: “Our occupancy rate is very high. We are currently at 76 per cent and that is likely to improve in the future.

“We have 60 units trading in the centre, which is a significant increase on the 35 that were here prior to the redevelopment.”

Bolton’s Liberal Democrats have called for more cross-party collaboration to help kick-start the local economy.

Chairman Kevin Walsh said: “We are calling for the council to create a cross-party economic development plan that will look at ideas for kick-starting the local economy and bringing high-value skilled jobs, leisure and shopping facilities to the town.

“The Liberal, Labour, Tory and UKIP councillors need to work together to inspire a new generation of industry throughout the town.

“We need to inspire the high-value jobs that our young graduates and out of work skilled professionals deserve to come to the town.

“Only with a joined up, cross-party plan, can we hope to reverse the fortunes of the town and start to build real momentum and make this a town people are once more proud to proclaim as their home.”

Cllr Sean Hornby, UKIP group leader, said: “There doesn’t seem to be a vision for Bolton at the moment, so maybe the council needs to be employing people from outside the borough who have got that vision.

“The perception is that Bolton is full of charity shops, pastie shops, and empty shops.

“What has happened at the Market Place is fantastic. But the town centre looks depressing from whatever direction you enter the town.”

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