TOWN leaders have been quick to defend the changing face of Stourbridge as major development continues to gather force.

Figures suggest close to £100 million is currently being invested in projects that could regenerate the town for years to come.

While a number of town centre shop units still remain empty, Chamber of Trade chairman David Harcourt insists the green shoots of recovery are evident.

It follows stinging criticism from Wordsley’s UKIP councillor Paul Brothwood that some of the shop units outside the Tesco Extra store in the Crown Centre remain empty while another has been taken up up by a charity store.

Mr Brothwood considered taking up one of the vacant units for his own business.

He stressed: “We need a diverse range of shops in Stourbridge and to make the town centre more attractive to small business.

“The free car parking provided by Tesco is great and we need more of it.

“But we also need to attract people out of the Tesco complex and into the High Street and we’re certainly not going to do that with more charity shops.

“There’s always been some great little businesses in Stourbridge, but they have become hidden behind the vast depth of charity shops. Look at the catastrophic effect it’s had on Dudley town centre. You can’t build a town centre on alcohol and charity shops.

Tesco confirmed this week that all the units have now been taken, although some were taking longer to open than expected.

Mr Harcourt insisted: “It’s been difficult, but there are now indications that people are starting to pick up the baton and new shops are popping up.

“I can understand the concept of having a charity shop in one of the Crown Centre units as it’s better to have people in there and the lights on rather than nothing.

However, the dynamics in retail are changing, with more people than ever doing their shopping online.

Former Dudley Borough council regeneration boss Cllr Les Jones said - who is currently a candidate for the vacant West Midlands Police Commissioner - confirmed: “This has been ten years of hard work to get people investing in Stourbridge.

“What we need is a start-up for smaller businesses that would encourage more people to give it a go and this could come in the form of discounted rates.”

Deputy council leader and Labour’s prospective Parliamentary candidate for Stourbridge, Pete Lowe said: “It’s important that we continue to build on the positive shoots in the town and to keep new initiatives going, both day and night.

“We also want to see real jobs created."