Sutton has been named as one of the most improved towns in the country for reducing its number of vacant shops by a firm that collates national data on town centres.
The Local Data Company’s latest report on shop vacancy rates analyses over 2,100 town centres, shopping centres and retail parks visited in 2013.
According to its figures, Sutton has seen a 7.6 per cent fall in the number of empty shops in its town centre in the last four years, meaning that 11.2 per cent of shop units were vacant in 2013.
This drop puts it in the top ten performing towns in the country for reducing vacancy rates.
The biggest improvement made was in Morecambe, which reduced its vacancy rate by 12.9 per cent, taking it down to 17.1 per cent.
Andrew Wraight, the chairman of the Sutton Town Centre Group and manager of the town’s Idlewells Shopping Centre, said that the figures are positive and match his experience of what has happened in Sutton since he came to the town a few years ago.
“When I joined the Centre in 2009 there were about four vacant units and we peaked at about seven or eight in 2010. We are now in a very fortunate position where technically there’s only one vacant unit,” he said.
“Where there’s more work needed is without doubt the Low Street area.
“We have seen that part of the town degrade quite significantly in the years I have been here.”
The closure in recent years of chain stores such as Jonathan James and Ethel Austin hit Sutton’s retail offer, as has seeing established independents close, such as the Put Your Foot In It shoe shop, which shut down last year.
Mr Wraight said although there are ‘pockets of success’ in Sutton, this is not mirrored across the whole of the town centre and work needs to be done to rectify this.
“Portland Square has had its day and we need to be thinking about a more flexible use for that piece of space,” he said, adding that Outram Street will probably never return to its glory days because town centres are shrinking in size and it is too peripheral.
“I can’t see that that end of town will ever thrive again like it once did,” he said.
Matthew Hopkinson, director of the Local Data Company, agrees with this view, stating that ‘not all places can or will be able to adjust to the 21st century High Street’.
“It requires consumer spend, retailer commitment, landlord investment and a long term structural commitment by Government,” he said.