North East towns are among the emptiest high streets in England, according to a report released today (Wednesday, May 10).

Stockton, Middlesbrough, Hartlepool, and Chester-le-Street are listed as some of the most ghost town-esque locations in the country, with empty shops and deserted highstreets.

The towns have the greatest increase in the persistent vacancy rate since 2015, and the picture of property ownership in these places.

The data was produced for Power to Change, a charitable trust, which shows that the North East is experiencing the highest persistent vacancy rate of all Britain’s nations and regions at 8.4 per cent.

The economic picture has shifted significantly and both Labour and Conservatives have announced a slew of policies to revitalise our high streets.

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Despite this, many places are still struggling. Power To Change says that while there are some signs of optimism - a small dip in online shopping, a narrowing of the closures and openings gap and a notable increase in the share of independent businesses on the high street - the need for transformation remains.

With some estimating a 40 per cent oversupply of retail space, the need to move away from the retail-dominated model is clear.

And there is a growing consensus that ‘experience’ will be at the heart of the future highstreet.

Whether this is in the form of a bigger arts and culture offer, a greater role for public services or more residential property, places are looking at how to diversify their town centres.

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Andy McDonald, Labour MP for Middlesbrough - which had a persistent vacancy rate of 11.2 per cent in the story - said: “Our high streets and centres are at the heart of our towns and we all must play our part in keeping them alive, relevant and attractive to all.

“I know our new Labour Mayor, Chris Cooke, will be looking to work with retailers, businesses and other organisations such as music and arts groups, to look at all opportunities to bring in investment and see the number of empty units reduced.

“It is very clear that shopping habits have changed and our towns need to be adapting to become more than a retail destination.

“We need to be creative in bringing people into our centres to boost the local economy and create a vibrancy to our town.”

The Northern Echo: Labour MP for Middlesbrough Andy McDonald. Picture: Gov.ukLabour MP for Middlesbrough Andy McDonald. Picture: (Image:

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Alex Cunningham, Labour MP for Stockton North, said: “There is no doubt our high street has suffered over the last 13 years of austerity but I am full of praise for Stockton Council’s strategy to change what is the widest high street in England from just a shopping centre to a destination – a place of festivals, specialist markets, leisure and international sports events, health and business. 

The Northern Echo:

“Some of these things have been happening for some time but the development of the Castlegate Centre area will be another seismic change for both local people and those who come to visit us. 

“Opening the town centre up to the riverside with areas for relaxation, children to play and events to be held can only increase the number of people coming into town.

The Northern Echo: Stockton high street was one of the areas highlighted in the reportStockton high street was one of the areas highlighted in the report (Image: SARAH CALDECOTT)

“Add to that the new diagnostic centre, championed by the council and Health Trust for years, and a new leisure centre and swimming pool; I have no doubt our town centre has a very bright future.”

The Northern Echo: Labour MP for Stockton North Alex Cunningham. Picture: Gov.ukLabour MP for Stockton North Alex Cunningham. Picture: (Image: Contributor)

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Kevan Jones, Labour MP for North Durham said: “We need to recognise that people's shopping habits have changed but getting more people living in the town centre with investment in housing on some of the vacant sites would help revitalise it.

“Durham County Council under the last Labour administration had investment earmarked for the front street along with a new leisure centre but over the last two years under the joint administration at County Hall nothing as progressed.

“I walked council officers around the front street last summer to highlight the issue but like a lot of things with those in charge a Durham County Council at present apart from lots of warm words and promises there is no action.”

The Northern Echo: Labour MP for North Durham Kevan Jones. Picture: Gov.ukLabour MP for North Durham Kevan Jones. Picture: (Image: Contributor)

Sue Cross, chief executive of Darlington Credit Union, said: “We welcome the report and share the concerns about persistent vacancy rates.

“I know that the council and partners work hard to encourage new businesses into the area – nonetheless it is a challenging time for many businesses particularly small, independents.

“These are the very businesses that add colour and difference to our town centres.”

Speaking about the report, Tim Davies-Pugh, chief executive of Power to Change, said: “With persistent vacancy rates on the rise, it’s clear that current interventions to reimagine our high streets do not go far enough.

"While these warning lights may seem bleak, we know that community businesses are key to the revival of the high street and are already making the changes needed to build town centres fit for the future. 

The Northern Echo: The new report from Power to Change looks at regions which have seen the biggest increase in rising and persistent vacancy ratesThe new report from Power to Change looks at regions which have seen the biggest increase in rising and persistent vacancy rates (Image: SARAH CALDECOTT)

"It’s vital that new, innovative solutions like a National Community-Led High Streets Programme and a High Street Buyout Fund capitalised by an empty buildings tax are introduced, to give local communities the support they need to ensure the survival of their high streets.

"Together with government, business and local people, we can make community ownership a part of the solution for change, but action is needed now.” 

Conservative MP for Stockton South Matt Vickers, and Conservative MP for Hartlepool Jill Mortimer were approached for comment but The Northern Echo did not receieve a repsosne in time for publication.