COUNCIL bosses and traders' leaders have hit back at a special Observer feature asking if Accrington was becoming a ghost town.
We reported last week that there were now more than 20 empty shops in the town centre and there was also criticism of the large number of bargain stores.
But council leader Peter Britcliffe claimed there had been a "major resurgence'' during the last five years.
And he revealed new shops were about to open. He said Sally Health and Beauty and Shoe Fayre had signed up for the new Market Square development, and the former Our Price store in the Arndale Centre would be re-opening shortly along with two empty units in Union Street.
Referring to the Observer report as "surprisingly pessimistic'', Councillor Britcliffe said: "The problem of empty shops was much worse 10 years ago. In 1994 there were between 40 and 50 and we had to decorate the windows with nursery rhymes to deter vandalism."
"But following the creation of the Regeneration Board in 1999 more than £50M has been invested in shopping, leisure and business development."
"In a town centre comprising more than 500 shops it is understandable that a number will be empty at any one time. This is the case throughout the country."
"Retailing is a constantly changing business, with some activities such as mobile phone sales booming one moment and reducing the next. Even national names come and go as a result of liquidation or receivership."
"A key test for Accrington is to monitor the number of shops re-opening as well as those closing to ensure that shopping vitality continues."
"But we can't take our eye off the ball. We must do our best to promote the town, not knock it.''
Arndale manager David Jones said: "Many traders have enjoyed year-on-year growth of over 20 per cent in the recent period.''
Mr Phil Bond, president of Hyndburn Chamber of Trade, said last week's report contradicted a very positive story in our 2 January edition headlined Trade boom as shoppers go on spending spree and One of the best years ever, and said his members were delighted with the level of investment in Accrington in recent years.
And Michael Whewell, of Whewell's Timber and Toolbox, said: "We will not be deterred by minor councillors' moans There is always more to be done but there is an exciting agenda for this year which will see new investment, new shops and new jobs. This will complement our high-quality independent retail sector.''
The Town Centre Regeneration Board was meeting last night to discuss a number of issues said to contradict any suggestions of a "failing'' town centre.
They include options for a new bus station, refurbishment of the Market Hall and the Town Hall extension, plans for coach-loads of visitors to shop in the town centre and the "streetscaping'' of Broadway.
- Accrington WILL be a ghost town - in a different sense - later in the year when the council stages its first historic ghost walk as part of a series of Great Nights Out in Accrington.