The struggling state of high streets in County Durham has been exposed, new figures reveal. 

An increase in empty shops in several town centres has increased above the national average. High streets around the region continue to suffer after cuts have seen high-profile retailers leave prominent sites. 

A survey carried out by Durham County Council, as part of its Council Plan, shows the average vacancy rate for retail units across all town centres is 16 per cent, worse than the national average of 13.9 per cent. 

Peterlee has the highest vacancy rate in the region. At 36 per cent it is worse than both the national average (13.9 per cent) and the rate recorded last year (32.8 per cent). Despite being anchored by national food retailer Asda and other retailers such as B&M and Boots, the non-retail offer within the town is limited resulting in high vacancy rates. 

Of the 13 town centres surveyed, seven have vacancy rates worse than the national average while six are better than the national average. The overall data, from July 2023, is on par with the 2022 average of 16.1 per cent. 

Durham County Council said town centres are key drivers of the local economy, and it is important they remain viable. 

Bishop Auckland has the second highest vacancy rate (27.7 per cent), and is worse than both the national average and the rate recorded last year (26.3 per cent). However, the local authority said the town is undergoing change and is receiving significant investment that is expected to create new opportunities for the retail and hospitality sectors in the town. 

Newton Aycliffe has also seen its number of empty shops increase to 21.4 per cent. Despite the town being anchored by national food retailers Tesco and Aldi, the limited non-retail offer within the town means vacancy rates remain high. 

The Northern Echo: Stanley town centre Stanley town centre (Image: Stuart Boulton)

Meanwhile, Shildon, Stanley and Spennymoor have improved from last year, but are still worse than the national average. And in North Durham, Chester-le-Street is worse than both the vacancy rate recorded last year and the national average. 

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Durham County Council said it continues to support its town centres through various initiatives, including the Towns and Villages Programme, Targeted Business Improvement Scheme and town centre masterplans that provide a blueprint for future investment and development in town centres.

Seaham had the fewest unoccupied retail units (7.3 per cent) of the six town centres with vacancy rates better than the national average, but it has increased from last year. The town is anchored by Asda, and also home to other national retailers in Byron Place shopping centre, as well as many independent cafes, bars and restaurants resulting in low vacancy rates. 

Ferryhill had the second lowest rate, while Consett, Crook and Durham City have improved or are on par with last year. Empty shops in Barnard Castle have increased, but it remains below the national average.