COUNCIL chiefs are looking to tackle the ‘grot spot’ areas of the town centre.

However, they have questioned figures released earlier this week claiming that Bolton has the sixth highest rate of empty shops in the United Kingdom.

Stephen Young, the council’s director of place, said the the town hall’s own figures collected last autumn showed that 21 per cent of the units in the town centre are empty — not 24 per cent, as claimed by the Local Data Company (LDC).

Cllr David Greenhalgh, Bolton’s Conservative leader, said this week that it was time to ‘flatten’ the worst areas of the town, and Mr Young says the council is considering the options available.

He said: “We are looking at some of the grot spots and the potential to do some demolition.

“But that is always going to be a complicated issue because we don’t own all of the land, and you can’t just go and demolish buildings that don’t belong to you.”

Mr Young confirmed that the council has contacted the LDC to find out how their statistics were compiled, but he believes the increased number of units at the Market Place Shopping Centre may have been a factor.

He said: “There are a number of things arising from this survey that don’t chime with what we know is going on in the town centre.

“For example, we don’t know when their data has been collected – so it may be that they have classed a lot of the units at the Market Place as empty when they are now full.

“To say that one in four units in the town is empty is ridiculous – if you walk around the town centre you can see that is not true at all.

“We collect vacancy rates ourselves twice a year. In the last three years the figure has gone from 23 per cent to 22 per cent to 21 per cent.

“At its lowest point prior to the redevelopment, the Market Place had 38 units trading at a 48 per cent occupancy rate. Now there are 60 units and a 76 per cent occupancy – and that figure is only going in an upward direction.”

He added that the number of visitors to town centre attractions like Bolton Museum had increased significantly, as had the users of the town’s three NCP car parks.

As well as opening new developments such as The Link and the Bolton Central office block, it is hoped that vacant buildings such as the former Beales, Prestons and BHS sites will be brought back into use in the near future.

Mr Young said: “There are new businesses, restaurants, and other developments coming in all the time. The Link, for example, which I’m told has had a lot of interest from businesses. SpaMedica is moving into the former Travel Counsellors building and the offices next to the new interchange will be reaching practical completion at the end of the month.

“The story the LDC are telling does not correspond with what is actually happening here.

“Unless you have boots on the ground to do these surveys, I would argue that it is a pretty futile and useless exercise.”

He added that the changing demographics of the town centre may contribute to the number of vacant sites, as well as “unrealistic” valuations from national landlords.