IT’S no secret that Britain’s high streets are struggling.

The announcement that Debenhams would be closing up to 50 stores over the next five years after being handed over to administrators hit national headlines, and it was just the latest in a list of national chains which have had to make cuts faced with struggles on the high street.

Closer to home, the news that Hexham’s flagship department store, Beales, would be closing in September came as a blow to the town’s high street. The boss of the Fore Street department store cited poor trading and high business rates among the reasons behind the decision to close.

And the bad news did not end there, as just a week later, the owner of Greggs Sports on Battle Hill said, if a buyer could not be found, he would also be forced to close down.

Owner Ian Millar, who took over Greggs Sports in 2010, said online shopping was having a big impact on high streets.

Bob Fletcher, a director at @retail, who has been recently appointed to the board of Hexham Community Partnership, with the aim of strengthening the partnership’s links with the local business community, agreed that online shopping was having an impact.

“I think the problems with retail at the moment are well documented,” he said. “The internet is the biggest threat, with big venues like the Metrocentre also attracting more footfall.”

A quick count showed at least 30 commercial premises are currently empty on Hexham’s main shopping streets, but Mr Fletcher said the town had plenty to be positive about.

“Hexham is one of the three market towns in the North-East which hasn’t gone down,” he said. “It is one of the towns which has stood up through the recession – there is a fantastic array of local independent businesses.

“I think there’s a lot to be optimistic about. There are underlying issues with parking which need to be sorted out and the market place, which has been a controversial, needs sorted, but overall there are lots of positives.”

He said Hexham’s percentage of empty business properties was below 10 per cent of the total retail number, and along with Yarm and Morpeth, it had retained its value and interest from retailers. In contrast, he said areas such as Consett and Stanley had a vacancy rate of between 30 per cent and 40 per cent.

Despite national issues for retailers, Mr Fletcher said there was still strong interest in premises in Hexham.

The former Carphone Warehouse site, in the prominent position on the corner of Fore Street, is soon to be taken over by Grape Tree Health Foods – and Mr Fletcher said they had been inundated with people keen to take on the unit.

Meanwhile, some of the retailers which are housed within Beales are said to be looking at premises elsewhere in Hexham.

He added: “There are areas which have issues. Priestpopple is an issue and Battle Hill and the far parts of Market Street. They are an issue and will continue to be an issue because towns are going to shrink in terms of amount of retail space and inevitably the places on the edges are the ones which will go.

“But Hexham has a lot going for it. People are going to towns with a bit of a nice environment, with nice places to visit and a good arrangement of shops, and particularly independent shops, and restaurants.

“People come to town centres for different reasons now, to see a film or go to the library or the doctors – and Hexham has got all of that.”