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Steve Boyes, Wolverhampton Council's interim chief executive, has defended the city's "top of the league" status as the UK's empty shops capital. He says the figures have been dstorted by the stalled Summer Row development.

As we reported yesterday, 23.9% of stores in the city centre were vacant - but in a statement Boyes argues that the figures would have dramatically improved had the Summer Row scheme gone ahead. Private investors pulled the plug in late 2008 in the midst of the worldwide economic downturn.

Existing businesses were subject to Compulsory Purchase Orders, which have left 35 premises empty.

Boyes estimates that if this particular hotspot (or should that be coldspot?) is taken out of the equation, the percentage of empty shops in the city centre is 12.3 per cent (or 89 empty shops out of a total of 724 shop units in the city centre) i.e. in line with the national average.

He said: "It is very important that people understand the full picture and acknowledge that data on its own, without explanation, can be misleading.

"The delays to Summer Row have created more empty shops than would be desirable in a specific area, but that does not reflect the entire city centre.

"We know there are empty shops in our city as a result of the economic downtown but it would have been a very different picture if the television cameras had been in Dudley Street for example rather than focusing on the area that will become Summer Row.

"But the main point here is that Summer Row is going to transform Wolverhampton. We are all working extremely hard to make sure it happens and we are optimistic that it will. It is a major scheme that will regenerate the city. There has also been a number of new lettings in the city recently.

"Meanwhile, the council is working with Wolverhampton City Centre Company and other partners to tackle the problems of our empty shops caused by the economic downturn. For example the new Epic Youth Cafe has been created in what were empty shops. We are keeping the streets clean and improving the public realm to inspire confidence in the city so that as the economy recovers, Wolverhampton is ready."



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