TWO North-East towns are among the worst in the country for the number of empty shops, according to a report.

Stockton and Hartlepool are said to have 27 per cent of vacant premises in their town centres.

However, York and Harrogate are among the best performing, with less than one per cent of shops empty.

The Local Data Company said that across the country one in seven shops have remained vacant over the past year and there is unlikely to be a significant improvement because of the economic climate.

The research groups study of 1,000 towns and cities found that the three-fold increase in vacancy rates since 2007 had stopped, but some retail centres had one in three shops closed, while others remained at pre-recession levels.

Southern areas of the UK had vacancy levels at or below one per cent, while the Midlands and North ranged from 13 to 16 per cent, Joining Stockton in the ten worst-performing large centres are Stockport, Blackpool and Grimsby.

Best performing large centres include Bromley, in Kent, Camden, Harrogate, St Albans, and Kingston-upon-Thames.

The highest vacancy rates in medium-sized centres are in Dudley (29 per cent), West Bromwich (28 per cent) and Dewsbury and Hartlepool (both 27 per cent), while the lowest at 6.6 per cent were in Falmouth, Walthamstow and Clapham Junction and Cirencester.

Stockton Borough Council says a variety of shops are just opening in the town and it is just starting a £20m investment to make the centre more attractive.

Councillor Mike Smith, the council’s cabinet member for regeneration and economic development, said: “We want to attract more retailers, businesses and shoppers to Stockton town centre and over the next five years I’m confident the continuing regeneration of the centre will help us achieve this.”

Hartlepool Mayor Stuart Drummond said: “The figures don’t surprise me, but they don’t give me any pleasure.

The national situation doesn’t help us, but we will do anything we can to improve the situation.”

Councillor Richard Cooper, Harrogate Borough Council’s cabinet member for economic development, said: “We have a distinct mix of shops.

We try to keep the place as clean and attractive so people want to come and visit.”

Matthew Hopkinson, director of the Local Data Company, said: “The pressures the High Street faces are increasing and, therefore, one needs to be realistic in the approach to all these towns if they are all to have a future.”

Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation, said: “The recovery will require investment and the confidence that goes with a local authority that has leadership, a clear vision and a willingness.”