Shops send out an SOS

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ALMOST a quarter of Wigan’s town centre shops are empty as the economy shrinks even further.

Last month, the Evening Post reported that seven per cent of shops in Standishgate were empty, but new figures from the Local Data Company reveal that the vacancy rate for stores in the whole town centre is 24 per cent, which is five per cent higher than the North West average.

And according to the report, town centres across Greater Manchester have some of the highest shop vacancy rates in the country, with five locations having more than 25 per cent of stores empty.

Stockport was the worst performing large town centre, with a vacancy rate above 30 per cent.

Other town centres with rates above 25 per cent were Oldham (26.3 per cent) and Altrincham (25.7 per cent), Cheetham (28.3 per cent) and Eccles (30.3 per cent).

The North West as a whole had the highest number of shop vacancies in the second half of 2011, with nearly 19 per cent of stores lying empty, according to the Local Data Company.

The best performing centres were mainly in the south and west of England, with less than 10 per cent vacancy rates.

The overall national vacancy level stood at 14.3 per cent.

One initiative to drive shoppers back into Wigan is Wiganplus, which is a loyalty card scheme, offering rewards and incentives.

Mike Riddell, head of partnerships at Wiganplus, which aims to promote Wigan businesses, said: “This report highlights the issue and now we need to address it.

“That is what we have been working on over the last year and a half, through the Wiganplus card.

“We are trying to get people to shop in Wigan, rather than other towns, or going online, which seems to be increasingly popular with some people.

“We have a very good relationship with Wigan Council and landlords of the shopping centres to provide such rewards.

“We have been successful so far and will continue to work with new ideas to give rewards and get people shopping in Wigan.”

Emma Antrobus, Wigan policy manager at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, said: “The issue of empty retail units is one that affects many high streets across the country.

“There are a number of reasons why vacant units exist in our town centres and the problem needs to be tackled in a joined up way.

“Town centres should not simply be viewed as a place to shop and there are a number of initiatives currently under way in Wigan town centre to try and incentivise people to shop locally and make use of businesses there.

“An example of this is the Wigan Plus scheme, which offers rewards and offers to individuals who make use of shops and businesses in the town centre.

“Local authorities need to keep the dialogue open with landlords and shopkeepers to help tackle issues as and when they arise and ensure our high streets grow and thrive again in the years to come.”