BISHOP Auckland high street must “face up to the facts” if it wants to survive, according to councillors and residents in the town after it was revealed that 34 shop units are now unoccupied along just one stretch of Bishop Auckland’s Newgate Street.

After Boots Pharmacy announced that it would be closing its doors in April 2022, questions about the future of the town centre in Bishop Auckland have been dragged back up after the area has lost several large retailers over the last number of years.

Now that yet another shop front faces the prospect of sitting empty on Newgate Street, we paid a visit to the historic shopping district yesterday (January 19) to see first-hand the issues facing the high street and talk to people about what could be done to save the once-thriving town.

Read more: What Bishop Auckland shoppers think about the town now that Boots has pulled out

From talking to those that use the shops in Bishop Auckland religiously, online shopping, a failure to integrate market stalls and some retailers moving into the local Shopping Park are all offered up as reasons for the ‘death of the high street’.

However, others took more of a pragmatic approach – citing that higher rents and the lack of housing within the centre of town meant that everything had to be pushed to the outskirts.

A walk along Newgate Street from the one-way section up towards the Market Place will tell you everything you need to know about the fortunes of shopping in Bishop Auckland, according to shoppers, due to the 34 empty units that scatter the street.

Here's a video of several of the empty units down Newgate Street: 

There are still some ‘big hitters’ in the town, in the form of Wilkinson, Savers, Boyes and Sports Direct, but for the most part, “most of the best shops moved out of the town years ago” and “you’ll be hard-pressed to find everything you need in Bishop Auckland,” were just a few of the comments The Northern Echo received when walking around.

In recent times, Newgate Street has lost Poundland, WH Smith, TUI and Peacocks in the space of two years, while many still reminisce about the fact that Marks & Spencer used to have a unit in Bishop Auckland.

Durham County Councillor for Bishop Auckland Sam Zair, who also sits on Bishop Auckland Town Centre and runs a café in the town, believes that high streets are struggling everywhere but has also highlighted that the town needs to “turn its luck around quick” if it’s to have any hope of surviving.

A selection of the 34 units that are currently empty:

The Northern Echo:

The Northern Echo:

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He said: “It seems like this downward trend for Bishop Auckland is happening across the UK, but one thing different about this town is that the tourism offering is fine – it has a very good tourism sector – but it needs that good retail experience to back it up.

“First impressions count for a high street, and Bishop Auckland wouldn’t make a good first impression right now – it’s demoralising.

“But, it’s not all awful news, with the multi-million funds that are coming to Bishop Auckland, we can enhance what we offer and ensure that the town is visited by plenty of people and those people have plenty to do, see and buy.

A timelapse walk down Newgate Street, Bishop Auckland:

He added: “There are grants out there to help businesses prosper. Hopefully, the good times will come back to Bishop Auckland – it’s a big challenge, and no one knows how long it will take, but everyone is pushing towards that goal.

“As a councillor and businessman, I want the town to thrive – hopefully, one by one, those empty units on Newgate Street can be restored.”

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