RETAILERS have enjoyed one of their best trading days of the year as bargainhunters flocked to shopping centres around the region for Boxing Day sales.

Hundreds queued outside stores from the early hours to get deals, with shopping centres reporting a huge increase in visitors and sales compared to previous years.

One of the longest queues was at The Bridges shopping centre, in Sunderland, where more than 300 people were waiting when the centre opened at 5am.

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Kevin Rusby, from The Bridges, said: “December has been phenomenal, really busy and we welcomed 1.6 million people through the centre.

“In the week leading up to Christmas, our malls were heaving, with a massive 536,000 festive shoppers.

“There has a great buzz in the centre today, bargain-hunters are definitely out in force.”

In Darlington, the streets were filled with shoppers, with retailers reporting some of their best trading figures of the year.

Cornmill shopping centre manager Susan Young said: “We have had a very busy day, even by typical Boxing Day standards.

“There has been a constant flow of customers all day and a real buzz around the malls, with many of our retailers reporting a hectic day on the tills.

“We are really encouraged by how busy the Christmas period has been overall and we hope this trend continues throughout the January sales.”

Retail parks and town centres in Teesside also reported a busy day.

Teesside Park, near Stockton, was extremely busy, with long tailbacks for cars going in and out, and shoppers finding it difficult to park.

Security staff at Wellington Square shopping centre, in Stockton, said it had been busier than expected.

Head of security Jim Lawder said: “It is always busy on Boxing Day, but this is more unusually busy than most years.”

A spokesman for the MetroCentre, in Gateshead, said: “People were queuing from 4am for the Next sale. It has been a steady and busy day.”

In London, forecasters predicted that more than £50m would be spent on Bond Street, Regent Street and Oxford Street – fuelled by wealthy Chinese, Middle Eastern and Nigerian shoppers.