A RETAIL consultant has urged Darlington’s council to scale back cuts and ‘get on the phone’ to persuade major retailers to set up shop after a fresh blow to town centre trading.

On Tuesday, Starbucks officially confirmed the closure of its Northgate branch, making the popular coffee chain the latest high-street name to withdraw from Darlington.

A host of major retailers have vanished from the town centre in recent years, with McDonalds, BHS, TK Maxx, Argos and Toni&Guy among the big names closing their doors to customers.

Councillor Chris McEwan, Darlington Borough Council’s cabinet member for economy and regeneration, said Starbucks’ closure was not necessarily a reflection on the town but could instead be due to a change in “the company’s wider position or strategy”.

However, North-East retail consultant Graham Soult believes swingeing council cuts could be a contributory factor.

Mr Soult said Darlington’s High Row represented one of the most magnificent town centre spaces in the UK and claimed that the town still provided visitors with a good retail offer, with its mix of high street names, markets and independent businesses.

He is now encouraging the town’s council to “get on the phone” to retailers such as H&M in a bid to fill empty units left by the likes of BHS.

Mr Soult is also urging DBC to invest more in the town centre, saying the authority’s significant cuts to street cleaning services and decorative factors such as Christmas lights could have a negative impact on trading.

He said: “In the current climate of local authority cuts, there are a lot of things that get pulled.

“I can see why councils have to make the cuts but it seems to be short-sighted.

“If you are looking at making your town an attractive destination for people to visit and for businesses to invest in, then things like flowers, tourist information and street cleaning are essential.

“It is so important to be proud of what you have because it is attractive and desirable so invest in that.

“You will have to spend more but if you don’t, the town will stop being attractive and people will not come.”

Cllr McEwan said: “Although it is always sad when businesses shut up shop, it is still the case that more than 90 per cent of shop units in Darlington town centre are occupied, a figure that compares very well with towns of a similar size.

“The retail landscape is changing everywhere, but we are working hard to bring new businesses to vacant units and ensure Darlington continues to be an attractive proposition for investors.

“The best thing Darlington residents can do to support the town centre is to continue coming here to shop, eat and enjoy yourself.

“There is no need for panic, we know what it takes to keep this town thriving and it is a challenge we will not shirk from.”

A spokeswoman for Starbucks said it had been a difficult decision to close after ten years of trade, adding:“We would like to thank our customers and the local community for their custom over the years."