AT least 20 shops now lie empty in Accrington town centre, raising fears it could become a ghost town.
In a stroll around town, our photographer snapped numerous vacant premises and To Let signs in Union Street, Blackburn Road, Broadway, Peel Street and the Arndale Centre.
And concerns have been expressed that the council's flagship new Market Square development - designed to bring extra investment - may be forcing out existing retailers.
In recent months, big-name traders such as Vodafone, Our Price and Greenwoods have moved out of the town, with several independent businesses also closing their doors.
Peel ward councillor Graham Jones urged regeneration chiefs to re-think their policy, saying: "The main reason the town centre is failing is that there is no inward investment. There are far too many shops - especially pound shops - and the quality of them is going down and down, so they don't attract money.
"Personally, I don't think there was any need for the market development - I think the pavilions are a step forward but the increase in retail units is a step backwards because they are affecting other businesses.
"I have yet to meet an Accrington resident who thinks that the town centre is progressing. They all think it is getting worse year after year.
"The council needs to have a look around and realise just how many vacant premises there are. It is a tragedy what is happening and it is about time it had a radical re-think of its policy."
Shoppers also expressed fears over the number of empty units. Jean Hogan, of Belfield Road, Accrington, said: "The town centre used to be beautiful, but it is shocking what has happened to it now.
"I first came here when I was two years old and in the last 64 years I have lived all over the country. I wouldn't have come back here if I'd known it was going to be like this."
Another shopper, visiting the town from Rossendale, said: "There have been loads of shops closed since I was last here.
"It does put you off coming back, especially as there are so many pound shops now. They need to get some proper, big-name stores in order to change things."
But Philip Bond, president of Hyndburn's Chamber of Trade, said he did not think there were any more empty shops in Accrington than in other small towns.
He said: "I think the new boarded-up shops in the Market Square development may give the impression that there is a problem, but as far as I am aware negotiations are still going ahead to fill these units.
"Once they are full, I think it will encourage further investment. Some of the larger units - such as the old McDonald's on Blackburn Road - have already re-opened.
"There has also been planning permission put in for a cafe in the Arndale Centre, which is further proof that people are investing in the town.
"I think the new market development can only enhance the town centre and it has certainly brought more people here."
Councillor Peter Britcliffe, leader of Hyndburn Council, said: "I am well aware of these empty units and I do consider that they are slow in filling up.
"But it is never a fast process and nobody is going to open up in January.
"While I share people's concerns, one has to be optimistic that the market development will attract more shops - certainly the ones that we've got seem to be successful and the number of people visiting Accrington is increasing."
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