AFTER new figures revealed that Britain is now officially in recession, The Press can reveal that the number of vacant shops, offices and other businesses in York has shot up by almost 100 in the past six months.

There are currently 556 vacant premises in York, compared to 458 in June last year, and another shop, Free Spirit in St Helen’s Square, is set to shut in a week’s time, according to staff.

Today, political, economic and business leaders across the city said action was needed to ensure the retail climate took a turn for the better, but it was vital to remain optimistic.

Susie Cawood, York head of the Leeds, York and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “York has got a strong retail offering and we want to keep it that way.

“Let’s hope that these shops don’t stay empty for very long and that other companies will come and take advantage of what York has to offer.”

She said that despite the prevailing economic gloom she predicted 2009 would be a good year for the city. “What we have to do is be positive. I think we are looking forward to a good year for the city actually because of the strength of the pound and also the diversity of York’s economy.”

Adam Sinclair, owner of Mulberry Hall, in Stonegate, and chairman of York Business Pride, said: “I think that some of the changes are seasonal and there is obviously an adjustment in the wider economy at the moment but I still think York is well placed as a compact and unique shopping city. There are also a lot of major retailers, who I think will be coming here to York.

City of York Council leader Andrew Waller said York, with good training and education, was in a strong position to weather the economic storm.

He said while some sectors of the city’s economy, such as house-building, were struggling badly, other sectors were performing as strongly as they were a year ago – for example businesses involved in exporting, which were benefiting from the weak pound.

He said it was essential to maintain the capacity of the construction industry, and that was one reason why he was keen to press ahead with the project to build a new council HQ. “That will generate hundreds of jobs,” Mr Waller said.

A spokeswoman for Free Spirit was unavailable for comment, but a planning application submitted to City of York Council by Blacks Leisure Group for alterations to the premises appears to indicate the property could quickly be reoccupied.