HARD-PRESSED traders have called for mass regeneration in Basildon town centre to start urgently after an Echo survey revealed 31 empty shops.

The traders, who are struggling to survive with few customers and massive rents, want Basildon Council to act now to preserve their future and ensure other businesses move in.

The town centre’s decline has seen scores of big brand names vacate the area in recent years including Jessops, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, KFC, Adams, and Peacocks sparking concerns over its future.

Erol Nazil, 57, owner of the Dream Cafe and Restaurant, pays up to £12,300 a year in business rates and £30,000 a year in rent, prices which he says are crippling his business.

He said: “If the big companies can’t survive here, what chance do we have? People do not come to this side of Basildon because there is nothing here anymore.

Everywhere is closing. Everyone is struggling since the recession.

People do not spend as much and I am suffering.

“Every month I am behind paying my rents because the costs are so high.

“We have had to open seven days a week to keep going. If the council reduced its rents for six months it would be completely different and all these empty shops would be open.

“Until then things will not improve.”

The town has also seen an influx of discount shopping stores, with another 99p shop set to open its doors in the town square this Saturday.

Traders claim the lack of variety on the high street is also driving away shoppers.

Dan George, owner of Crazy Dan’s House of Meat, said: “There are far too many charity shops and pound shops here. We have so many of them and it really doesn’t draw people in.

“They just go elsewhere to Lakeside to do their shopping.

“The rates are far too high. I pay about £22,000 a year. It’s a big gamble opening up a business and it just puts independent traders off because it’s such a risk having to pay out so much.

“Reducing rates would really attract retailers and as so many are closing at the moment it just makes business owners like me think what chance do we have if these big names can’t make it?”