Rushden has the ‘healthiest’ town centre in the north of the county, according to a leading retail advisor’s latest rankings.
Harper Dennis Hobbs’ (HDH) vitality report has ranked retail centres based on the proportion of upmarket shops, value-led shops, unit vacancy rates and ‘undesirable’ shops, such as pawnbrokers and money lenders.
Of the 1,000 UK centres in the list, Rushden is the highest from the north of the county at 385.
Steven North, leader of East Northants Council, said: “Rushden, like the other towns in the district, is growing and developing in all sorts of exciting ways.
“Our recent investment of the Wilko and Iceland site in Rushden demonstrates our belief in the town as a good place to live, work and visit and with a wealth of independent and well-known high street brands and a busy calendar of events throughout the year.
“Rushden has a lot to offer, not to mention the free parking throughout the town centre which has now been in place for over 20 years.
“The opening of Rushden Lakes promises an exciting new chapter for the town so there’s a lot to enjoy right now and to look forward to.”
Kettering came bottom of the pile for north Northamptonshire, ranked at 792.
The Northants Telegraph asked Kettering Council to comment on whether it agreed with the ranking and what it was doing to address it.
A Kettering Council spokesman said: “There are more than 48,000 towns in the UK, and Kettering is rated 792 in this survey.”
Independent councillor Mike Brown (Brambleside) urged the council to find some ‘fresh vision’.
He said: “I would strongly urge the council to stop delaying the promised cuts to car parking charges and invest quickly into a local economic stimulus package to ensure we do not continue to fall further and further behind.
“Fresh vision is needed and fast.”
Since the rankings were released, a conference aiming to help shape the future of Kettering’s town centre has been set up by the council.
The conference, which takes place in Corn Market Hall from 9am to 1pm on September 13, is open to local businesses, service delivery partners and visitors.
Wellingborough is ranked at 629 in the UK, making it the second-highest in the north of the county.
Martin Griffiths, leader of Wellingborough Council, said: “As is the case in many towns, shopping habits are changing.
“Wellingborough Council recognises this and has set up a town centre working group to explore how we can change our retail offer.
“We were not consulted on the criteria used for this research and have no information regarding the ranking,” he added.
“However, in March 2016 we undertook a retail assessment of the vitality and viability of Wellingborough town centre, drawing on a number of key indicators.
“We believe this was a very comprehensive assessment of the town centre which accurately identifies its current position and future plans.
“It looked at how the town centre had performed since previous council surveys in 2008 and 2013 and identified good performance, with a higher proportion of comparison goods retailers than the UK average.”
Cllr Griffiths added that upcoming developments around the town and redevelopments will only help the town centre.
He said: “The large amount of development planned to the east and north of Wellingborough will support the town centre further.
“Wellingborough’s digital presence on the high street is also improving.
“Finally, the total number of businesses in the borough has increased by 1.35 per cent over the past three months and we currently have the highest number of businesses ever recorded in the borough.”
Corby’s town centre came in at 745 out of 1,000.
Corby’s mayor, Cllr Matt Keane, disagrees with the ranking and says his town is ‘undoubtedly’ the best in the north of the county.
He said: “I think Corby should have scored more.
“Corby town centre has completely transformed in the last 10 years and has gone from strength to strength.
“It’s undoubtedly the best town centre in the north of the county with a fantastic offering of shops, bars and restaurants.
“It has something for everyone from fashion to food.
“You regularly see people visiting Corby town centre and it’s shops from surrounding towns and villages.
“I hope moving forward it will continue to attract big names to our town centre to expand further on its current offering.”
Nationally, Cambridge topped the list with Byker Shields on the outskirts of Newcastle-upon-Tyne coming bottom.
Almost 20 per cent of all shop units in Byker Shields are currently vacant.
In the East Midlands, Nottingham was the best-performing centre with Stamford second and Market Harborough third.
Wigston near Leicester was ranked the lowest in the region, closely followed by Arnold near Nottingham and Ilkeston in Derbyshire.
Jonathan De Mello, head of retail consultancy at HDH, said: “This iteration builds considerably on our inaugural Vitality Index, released in 2014, which was the first retail ranking in Great Britain to emphasise the quality of retail in a centre in addition to its size.
“In this release, by popular demand from both retailers and investors, HDH have incorporated additional small towns and high streets, which gives a greater range to the ranking and allows for comparison of local high streets with major retail destinations.
“This ranking highlights the ‘healthiest’ retail centres in Britain, which successful brands should target when considering network expansion.
“Smaller centres are of increasing interest to retailers, given rents are often highest in the largest centres.”