Swindon AdvertiserIs our town becoming a ghost town? (From Swindon Advertiser)

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Is our town becoming a ghost town?

Swindon Advertiser: There are numerous empty shop units around town There are numerous empty shop units around town

THE impact of the recession on Swindon has been laid bare in figures showing almost 800 commercial properties are empty across the town.

The list includes premises vacated by businesses which went bust and one central shopping street, Commercial Road, which features 16 times.

Long-term empty properties include offices in the Athena Business Centre, on the Elgin Industrial Estate, home of George White Motors before it folded in January, which have been unoccupied for 1,479 days. Another premises, above MD Motors, in Stratton Road, has been vacant for 5,922 days.

The longest-running empty unit, however, is 38a Hyde Road, in Upper Stratton, which has been vacant for 8,054 days according to figures up to the beginning of April.

Though the data is taken from a total of 5,286 properties, traders said tough economic conditions and high rates are making it difficult to establish a permanent foothold in the town.

In particular Regent Street has suffered from several stores closing in recent months and is dotted with empty shops.

A similar situation exists in Commercial Road, where Stella Weeks, director of Mainline Employment, has witnessed the decline.

“The street used to be really booming but there are businesses closing down because they just can’t manage the cost,” she said.

“Although there are a lot of people looking for work I don’t think as many people are coming into Swindon as there were. People are scared to open businesses in the current environment and we need to encourage them to take the plunge.”

Romeo Pirvu, director of SNES sports nutrition and equipment suppliers, is located in Havelock Street, which has not suffered to the same extent from empty shopfronts.

But while figures from the town centre management agencies show healthy occupancy rates in the area, he believes many businesses do not last long.

“My friends who own businesses all say the same thing – that times are extremely tough,” Mr Pirvu said.

“Even in Havelock Street there are empty units and businesses coming and going, with many not lasting a year. People are making debts to pay debts. The Government and the council need to listen to traders.

“I’ve been running my own business for three years and I’ve never been approached once.

“The only communication you get is a threatening letter when the rates are late.”

Ashok Mistry, of Egg-e-licious food stop, in the Tented Market, agrees.

He said: “The problem is the rents are very high and the returns give small traders very little incentive, particularly in the town centre.

“You could pay £50,000 a year for a unit in the middle of town but you will only get tax relief up to about £13,000 of your earnings. Even small shops a bit further from the Brunel shopping centre have to generate an income of £2,000 a week to break even and that’s before the costs of salaries, electricity, gas and water.

“Then there is increasing competition from internet sales.

“It’s not only small shops that are suffering, major stores like HMV are struggling to survive in this environment.”

The figures, obtained by the Adver under the Freedom of Information Act, show 789 properties lay empty as of April 19, including large amounts of space at business parks in outlying areas.

Yet South Swindon MP Robert Buckland believes the town, which has an occupancy rate above the national average, is still desirable to new businesses.

“It’s always concerning to learn about empty commercial properties but if you speak to surveyors and estate agents they will tell you there is a lot of interest out there,” he said.

“There is an 89 to 90 per cent occupancy rate which is very encouraging.

“Swindon remains a great place to locate a business.”

Forward Swindon, the town centre economic redevelopment firm, is part of the project team aiming to breathe new life into the central shopping district with the £350m Union Square overhaul, which is scheduled to begin at the end of the month.

A spokeswoman said: “Forward Swindon provides a service to help businesses find suitable space in Swindon – whether it be through local agents or the council – in the town centre or on a business park.”

To search for a commercial property on the market in Swindon visit swindon.uk.com/home

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