CHRONIC frustration over the dilapidated condition of empty shops in Keighley boiled over at a public meeting, with people demanding the properties' owners be "named and shamed".

Keighley residents hit out at the state of several disused shops in North Street, which have been derelict for many years.

Valerie Ward, one of the members of the public to attend the Annual Town Meeting in Keighley Civic Centre, which was arranged by Keighley Town Council, asked: "What is happening with the awful state of these shop fronts? Whenever you go past them it's not a nice sight. For 30 years they've been like that."

Resident presents at the (May 30) meeting said whoever was responsible for the properties should be ashamed of themselves, and deserved to be publicly identified.

Keighley town councillors responded that as these properties are in private hands, the town council's own options were very limited.

But they stressed they had passed on people's concerns over the appearance of the buildings to Bradford Council on more than one occasion.

Cllr Barry Thorne said: "These are private landlords, and it's not possible to do anything unless there's a danger to public health and safety."

Cllr Kaneez Akthar said district council inspections had been conducted on the North Street properties, but pointed out that each time the owners had done just enough work on the buildings to ensure they do not threaten public safety.

"As much as we may want to carry out enforcement against the owners, to get them to do the work they should be doing, we can't because of the legislation," she added.

Ms Ward also voiced her concerns about other parts of the town centre, warning the prominent old Victoria Hotel pub, in Cavendish Street, was looking badly neglected, while charity shops, bookies and takeaways were proliferating across central Keighley.

"I was born in this town 72 years ago and it's going to wrack and ruin" she said. "Who gives permission for so many of these charity shops, betting shops and takeaways to open up everywhere? People are sick of them."

Cllr Akthar responded: "I moved to Keighley at primary school age, so I've seen the town change over a number of decades.

"The problem we have is that the world out there now offers so much choice that we're losing footfall in our town centres.

"Businesses are no longer seeing the kind of profits that they used to. They are having to reshuffle, and as a result our town centres are becoming emptier."

She and Cllr Chris Herd said the best way for people to support trade in the town was to use independent local shops as much as possible.

Cllr Herd, who runs a butchers shop in Ingrow, said: "I've been in business in Keighley for 20 years and Keighley is a tough place to make money."

Earlier in the meeting, new town mayor Cllr Fulzar Ahmed had praised the managers of the Airedale Shopping Centre.

He said despite the closure of Marks and Spencer, the centre's managers were doing a "fantastic job" in a tough climate to retain tenants and to attract other big retail names to Keighley.

After the meeting, business and community leaders in Keighley spoke out about what the town centre needs to help it survive amidst difficult conditions for high street shops.

Keighley MP John Grogan acknowledged the condition of the two eyesore shops in North Street was frustrating for many people, but said he hoped the planned renovation and conversion of the nearby former Star Pub would have a positive knock-on effect on these buildings.

Referring to the wider town centre, he said: "The loss of Marks & Spencer was a big blow, though the company tells me they are hoping to have new tenant in that building by the autumn.

"We shouldn't take Airedale Shopping Centre or Keighley Market Hall for granted, as they are both well patronised and lively pretty much every day of the week.

"Let's not run ourselves down too much, but we do definitely need new investment in the town centre."

Paul Howard, Keighley Business Improvement District (BID) manager, said: “In terms of vacancy rates Keighley is pretty much at around the national average, and has been for some time.

“A lot of national chains are really struggling, as we’ve seen with House of Fraser, so this isn’t just a local issue.

“People need to be aware that if they don’t support their local town centre, we won’t be able to retain shops.”

Mr Howard said the BID was investigating expanding its efforts to improve the appearance of disused shop units, as it has done with the empty former Marks & Spencer building.

This property, in Low Street, now features large posters advertising what there is to see, do and buy in the town centre.

Commenting on complaints about certain types of shops taking over the town, Mr Howard said: “There has to be a market for any type of shop to operate and if people don’t use those shops they wouldn’t be there.

“For me, I think it’s important that we still have businesses trading in these properties, rather than being left with empty shops.”

Cllr Ahmed said the best way to brighten up the town centre was to offer incentives for smaller, independent businesses to open up.

He said landlords who don’t want their properties to be left empty for years should have the necessary motivation to offer attractive terms to traders willing to occupy these buildings.

But shoppers in Keighley town centre on Tuesday morning (June 12) voiced fears that the town centre might continue to decline unless more drastic steps are taken.

Nick O’Reilly, 44, from Bracken Bank, said: “It’s not the worst town centre I’ve seen, but it could be a lot better.

“I think the council and the Government should both be doing more than they’ve done so far to make life easier for small businesses.

“Older pupils at school should be given the confidence and skills to go into business for themselves when they leave school, instead of assuming they need to go to university or be employed by someone.”

Alexa Marshal, 33, from Bogthorn, said: “I used to do nearly all my shopping in Keighley, but I’m now travelling to Leeds a lot more than I once did.

“If other people here are doing the same, that can’t be good for Keighley. But a small town like this is never going to have the selection you can find in a big city centre.”

Aisha Pervez, 28, of High Spring Gardens, said: “I don’t think our town centre is too bad, but there are a lot of shops selling things I’m not interested in. And I don’t know anyone who ever goes to them.

“I know some of my friends have started using the new [Broadway] shopping centre in Bradford, so that’s more money which isn’t being spent in Keighley anymore.”

A spokesman for Bradford Council responded: "The council has a long history of working with our partners in Keighley to deliver improvements and support to the town centre.

"More recent developments include the new Memory Garden on Church Green and the Townscape Heritage Initiative works on North Street, which improved a number of heritage shop fronts and brought them up to a much higher standard.

"Sadly, not every shop participated in the scheme so a number still need work.

"The council also supported the development of the Keighley Business Improvement District, which has done a fantastic job in driving footfall to the town with a number of high profile events, improved local signage and supported local businesses to reduce their costs.

"We have also recently launched the District Growth Scheme as part of our Economic Strategy, which is designed to support investment and jobs growth in our town centres such as Keighley, Ilkley, Shipley and Bingley.

"We want to ensure a healthy mix of offers in our town centres so we excluded betting shops and amusement arcade from the funding.

"Anyone considering investing or expanding their businesses should speak to our Invest In Bradford Team, who’ll be only too happy to help.”