Bishop Auckland is the worst town for empty shops in the North East, according to our readers.

A handful of other towns like Newton Aycliffe and Chester-le-Street also received a notable number of votes, but Bishop Auckland clearly emerged as the front-runner.

Multiple readers cited external factors like high rents and the rise of online shopping as key contributors to the decline of high-street shops.

Investment was also a concern, with one reader lamenting how funding is predominantly directed towards out-of-town developments.

This comes as stats have shown that 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. 

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Rob Wells, a local resident, proposed councils and businesses take a different approach to regenerate the Bishop Auckland high street. 

He said: "With one of the longest high streets in the country and investment predominantly being made on out-of-town developments, is it any wonder Bishop Auckland tops the list?

"The town centre needs to think outside the box and offer something people want. Housing perhaps?"

Several other readers expressed similar sentiments, highlighting a need for creative solutions to adapt to a new market. 

Despite these challenges, many of the Echo's readers remained hopeful with hints of resilience and potential for rejuvenation visible in the comments.

A slew of big businesses have also announced plans to opne branches at the Bishop Auckland business park over the next few months - including The Range, Home Bargains, Reel Cinemas and Pure Gym.

And last week, American chicken chain Popeyes opened a branch in the town - to the glee of many residents. 

Commenters remained optimistic about the town's future.

Virginia Trotter expressed her belief in the efforts towards revitalisation in Bishop Auckland, while Alan Iveson claimed that the town now possesses one of the best retail parks in the region.

In contrast, there's a general concern over the state of Newton Aycliffe.

Amanda Shaw put it down to the town being "sold to London landlords and rents are ridiculous".

While a reader named Steven Lawrence accused the town of being "dead" with no funds for redevelopment, remarking that the town has been "missed out on about four or five times; it's shocking."

But the broader issue extends beyond Bishop Auckland and Newton Aycliffe.

Dave Doremro stated: "They are all the same, the Government saw to that."

Stephen Pallas also echoes this sentiment on the link between the decline of high street shops and the emergence of retail parks.

Nevertheless, despite the bleak picture painted by many comments, various readers suggested initiatives and ideas in action within the North East, proving the region's determination to combat the decline despite facing significant challenges.

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According to Stephen Morgan, links to culture and heritage sites, like the locomotion museum and Bishop Auckland's popular Kynren attraction, are bringing people to the region. 

The road to recovery may be long and arduous, but the spirit in the North East shows no signs of dwindling.

The challenge now lies not just in identifying the problem, but in finding innovative and effective solutions to revive and revitalise high streets in areas like Bishop Auckland and Newton Aycliffe.