'Flawed' empty shop figures wrangle

PUBLISHED: 19:00 22 September 2012

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WESTON's town centre manager has called on a data collection company to talk to business leaders after it came under fire for its 'fatally flawed' shop vacancy statistics.

The Local Data Company (LDC) compiles reports on the number of empty shops in high streets across the country - and said Weston had 21.4 per cent of its town centre shops closed at its last count in February, amounting to 86 units.

Martin Blackwell, chief executive of the Association for Town Centre Management (ATCM), has hit out at the company’s reports.

He said: “The figures released by the LDC are, we believe, fatally flawed.

“It uses an out-of-date set of criteria for establishing town centre boundaries and, as a result, they don’t reflect the reality on the ground.

“The boundaries used by LDC to define the ‘town centre’ were drawn up by Government and have not been updated since 2004.

“In many locations, very significant changes have taken place that fundamentally render the figures released at best meaningless and at worst a brake on investment that might lead to a vicious circle.”

That view was supported by Weston town centre manager Steve Townsend, who says the negative assessment could damage trade.

He has called on the LDC to talk to Weston Town Centre Partnership (WTCP) and help come up with the most accurate data possible.

He said: “It seems to me like a big opportunity for the LDC to talk to the town centre partnership.

“I think it would be useful if we had a conversation with them to see how they work out their figures.”

He added that WTCP uses business rate payer records to count the total number of businesses in the town centre.

He said: “If the LDC is just going round looking at empty units then it hasn’t taken into account businesses which have been taken out of rateable value.

“For example some of the things in Dolphin Square could have been counted as empty when in fact they are being redeveloped.”

Comparing the figures, Mr Townsend said there are currently 112 empty businesses – not just shops – in Weston town centre, totalling 16 per cent of all premises.

Matthew Hopkinson, director of The LDC, said: “We adopt an objective and independent approach. We physically visit centres and record if a shop is trading or not on that day.

“The boundaries we use are those defined by the Department for Communities and Local Government as the retail core.

“What we do has an open methodology and has an independent boundary defined by the Government.

“If we are going to have competent statistics, it has to be based on an independent boundary and it has to be replicable over time.”

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