VACANCY rates in Tunbridge Wells come in just below the national average, marking the second year running that the number of empty shops has fallen.

The figures were released as part of Town Centre Intelligence report, commissioned by Royal Tunbridge Wells Together.

With 9.3 per cent of premises lying empty, the town has a slightly more vibrant retail and commercial scene than the national average, which stands at 9.4 per cent.

However, this masks large regional variations and Tunbridge Wells fares relatively poorly when compared to the South East as a whole, which records a vacancy rate of seven per cent.

The report states the retail offer in Tunbridge Wells is of an ‘upper middle classification’, with a ‘wide range of high quality shops’.

It adds: “As well as hosting a wide variety of chain shops in the town centre, the Pantiles and High Street complements the top of town by offering a wide range of independent retailers.”

In terms of independent to chain ratio, the Pantiles was identified as the most attractive place for those wishing for a unique shopping experience, with three quarters classed as independent.

Camden Road is the next best place for independents, which count for over half of the total premises.

Royal Victoria Place is the best place to go for a branded retailer, with 71 of the 83 units currently occupied in the sore belonging housing a chain store.

The report concludes: “Tunbridge Wells town centre is host to a healthy retail economy and ranks highly compared to other shopping destinations in the region. There is a good variety of shops… which is likely to be boosted by the redevelopment of Royal Victoria Place and the old cinema site.”

The report’s release comes after Karen Pengelly, who took heads Royal Tunbridge Wells Together as the Town Centre Manager, met with around 35 business owners to discuss how to attract more people to the town.

A particular focus for her will be on strengthening the tourism and hospitality sectors.

She said: “I am looking hard at our footfall figures and at implementing different projects over a long period that will focus on group travel, orientation and inbound tourism.

“This means talking to overseas tour operators and working collaboratively with hotels and hospitality sector across town – always strength in numbers so working together is key.”