CALLS have been made for ‘urgent action’ to be taken on derelict shops and absent landlords amid fears a town’s high street will not recover.  

A number of businesses have left King Street in Whitehaven in recent years and many of the buildings now stand empty.

Joseph Ghayouba, Cumberland councillor for Bransty (Labour), said the decline is having a detrimental impact on other businesses and the owners of the empty buildings must be held to account.

Traders on King Street have also shared their frustrations at the state of the town’s main shopping street.

It follows the closure of gift shop Haven Artisan on lower King Street, which the owners said was due to the town’s low footfall.

Cllr Ghayouba said: “King Street was once a thriving focal point of the town centre that has seen a considerable level of decline in recent years.

“As one of the councillors for Whitehaven, it is infuriating that yet another business is having to close their doors due to low footfall.

“Empty and derelict properties are not only a detriment to the appearance of the town but they are also severely impacting the existing businesses in Whitehaven.

“We must hold those owners to account otherwise our town will not recover.”

Whitehaven News: One of the derelict shops on King Street in WhitehavenOne of the derelict shops on King Street in Whitehaven (Image: Newsquest)

Paul Brown, co-owner of The Dovetail Emporium, a gift shop on upper King Street, said: “The state of the empty properties are affecting trade in the town, including my business.

“The state they have been left in and continuing to decay is off-putting to any locals and tourists from coming into the town. How have the owners been allowed to let them get in this state?”

Lisa Youngman, of Jim Youngman Carpets, based on upper King Street, said: “We are not happy about this at all.

“We try to make our shop appealing but shoppers do comment, ‘why would you want to come into town unless you had a ‘destination shop’, ‘there’s nothing to shop for’, which is really hard to hear.

“King Street could be so beautiful and vibrant. For instance, the old Shoezone, the landlord has a hole in the roof, his alarm was going off for days, nothing was done.

“If they are gaining the rent from the flats above the shops, they don’t bother with the shops below.”

Balazs Csomor, owner of the Angry Boba, a bubble tea and ice cream shop on upper King Street, said: "The more empty shops in the town centre mean less people coming down, and it is challenging for the existing businesses. They are struggling to survive without enough customers. 

"We'd love to see more new shops opening on King Street, attracting local people and tourists into the town centre.

"Of course, the water issue in the harbour doesn't help either."

Whitehaven News: There are currently a number of empty units on King Street in WhitehavenThere are currently a number of empty units on King Street in Whitehaven (Image: Newsquest)

Cllr Ghayouba said he recently took it upon himself to conduct a land registry search for the empty shops on King Street and it was clear why there are so many empty shops in the town.

He explained: “It isn’t the fault of the small local businesses - most of the empty shops are owned by people with no connection to Whitehaven. They live in places like London, Newcastle, Hounslow and Halifax.

“I wrote a letter to every single owner asking them to engage with me to see how we might reverse the fortunes of the town. Only one local property owner based in Cockermouth took up my invitation.

“There needs to be a change in how we arrest this decline and that starts by taking on the negligent, absent and quite frankly irresponsible property owners who would rather see their derelict and run down properties sit empty than have them occupied.

“If you are a property owner of one of the premises on King Street you have a duty towards the town and its people to ensure that your property does not drag the town and other businesses down with you. My offer to those owners is to see how the council might assist with that task.”

Charles Maudling, chairman of Whitehaven and District Chamber of Trade and owner of Charles Menswear on upper King Street, said: “We all feel the council have the power to make landlords bring up to standard and should action that. They are easily traced by rates land registry.

“On the positive side, we have a new business opening at the top of King Street. The old Burtons store is being worked on by the new landlord. I was also in a very positive meeting last week with stakeholders with regards to King Street.”

Whitehaven News: The former Carphone Warehouse shop on King Street stands emptyThe former Carphone Warehouse shop on King Street stands empty (Image: Newsquest)

Michael Pemberton, chief executive officer of BEC, which has plans to redevelop the derelict former Whittles furniture store building, said: “Whittles sits at the top end of King Street and should act as an anchor and exemplary development to stimulate others to take action.

“The need to establish a town focused group with real teeth is imperative as is having a highly effective town council.

 “Work is underway by Cumberland Council to look at how empty shops can be brought back into use.”

A Cumberland Council spokesperson, said: “Cumberland Council is exploring various strategies to regenerate and enhance our town centres, with a focus on addressing the challenges posed by absentee landlords.”