AROUND a quarter of shops in the Swindon centre are lying empty.

Research carried out by the Adver revealed the town's main retail area has 57 dormant units. The borough council's planning map says there is space for 220 stores.

But although shoppers have expressed fears about an exodus of retailers big and small, those charged with turning the situation around say there are positive signs.

Swindon Advertiser:

Amanda Marie, from North Swindon, called the town centre ‘dire’ when she spoke to the Adver.

She said: “I was just speaking to someone about attracting staff to come and work in Swindon.

“Unless you knew the town, if I walked them through the town centre they wouldn't be enamoured.”

Tom Norris, from Park North, added: “It just looks like Swindon’s closing down. It’s hard to see something coming in.”

Swindon Advertiser:

Included in the Adver's count were Regent Street, Canal Walk, The Parade, Bridge Street, Fleet Street, Farington Road, Market Street and Havelock Street, as well as Regent Circus and the Brunel Shopping Centre.

The total of 57 units does not take into account the empty tented market.

Among the brands to leave the town centre in 2019 were Starbucks, Argos and Thorntons as well as Morrisons at the relatively recent Regent Circus development.

Swindon Advertiser:

The Brunel currently has eight empty units.

A spokesman for the Brunel said: “Of course, high streets across the UK are changing and there’s a general trend for retail within town centres to consolidate within a smaller and more focused area.

“We’re focused on encouraging people to dwell in The Brunel for longer, and from what we see that strategy is working well. The Crossing has become established as the social hub of the town, and we have a lot of events there that are really well attended and people tell us they enjoy.

Swindon Advertiser:

“We’ve also got the advantage of having a wide range of independent retailers and eateries, so visitors have the opportunity to find something a bit different or a bit special that they can’t necessarily get elsewhere. We’re now finding that new, bright entrepreneurs are being attracted to the Brunel because they see others having made a success of it.

“And, of course, we have the advantage of being under cover, which is certainly attractive to shoppers and visitors when the weather is as poor as it has been recently. If you can park under cover and do all your shopping and eat and drink without having to brave the elements once, that’s a plus for anyone.”

South Swindon MP Robert Buckland acknowledged shops are disappearing but says the success of the Designer Outlet balances out the issues in the town centre.

Swindon Advertiser:

He added: “Online shopping now accounts for over 22 per cent of all retail sales with one in five sales no longer taking place in a physical shop. By Christmas 2020, this figure is estimated to become one in four. This changes the nature of what makes a high street successful.

“Since councillor Dale Heenan took over as cabinet member for Swindon town centre, arts and heritage, a different approach has been undertaken. Ruthlessly prioritising certain schemes to ensure that visible progress is made, and as a result the ground-breaking for the first new office development in Swindon for 20 years is scheduled to start at the end of March.

Swindon Advertiser:

“Each part of Swindon’s offer caters for a different market and demographic, The Outlet is extremely popular and new shops are tending to locate there. For every shop that closes in the town centre, a new one opens in the Outlet. Our overall numbers have been static for the last five years.

“In Old Town we have the social scene and several independent shops.

“That leaves our town centre and when companies like Arcadia have serious problems then it’s here that its felt, and visible. Arcadia had five units 18 months ago, swiftly moving to one.

Swindon Advertiser:

“The Conservative government is committed to helping support town centres to evolve and adapt to these changes and I will continue to ensure that when it comes to Swindon, we receive our fair share of the funding available. Last week’s full council saw the budget agreed, and it also included the biggest investment in the town centre for a generation with £40m becoming available.”