A SHOPPING centre struggling to attract customers has 26 empty shops, a survey reveals.

A management count of Southend’s Victoria Centre’s 63 units this week showed 41 per cent are vacant.

Yesterday, the Echo told how traders there blamed changes to the Victoria Gateway for hitting trade.

They blame politicians for not acting quickly enough to address their concerns over the lack of shoppers.

Tony Belyavin, chairman of Victoria Tenants’ Association said: “We met in April with John Lamb, then deputy council, and councillor Tony Cox.

“We were told there was nothing they could do because there was no money to do anything, then we see the council can find the money to put in all these trees in the area. We contacted councillor Martin Terry, but he hasn’t replied.

“We feel we have been ignored by the council and it hasn’t listened to the people it is supposed to represent. We contribute £50million to the local economy and employ 250 people and yet we are ignored.”

The association believes a second crossing in the shared space area, which was completed in 2011, has diverted people from an escalator leading to the centre, resulting in a drop of more than 500,000 visitors.

Traders say they want the crossing removed or fenced off They also believe the recent introduction of trees and seats proved there was money in the pot and the opportunity to do something to help the centre had been ignored.

John Lamb said: “I have only just returned from leave, but there is nothing I can do now as the administration has changed.

It is down to Martin Terry now.

“When we had our meeting, there was no money in our budget to fence the crossing off.

The new administration had to divert money from somewhere else for the seats and trees.”

Martin Terry, councillor responsible for public protection and transport, has promised to look into the issue.

He said: “I am not aware of being contacted about this. The new administration only settled down in July, then people were on holiday."

Graham Longley, deputy leader and councillor responsible for enterprise, tourism and economic regeneration, said he believed the problems at the centre were temporary.

He said: “I think it is a superb centre and the owners have done an awful lot of work on it.

“The centre has just had a major new business start there with the Pound Shop moving in.

“I think the centre has maybe been through a hard patch, but I think it’s a short-term issue.

“The council is always doing all it can to encourage businesses, but I think it is a matter of encouraging the right blend of businesses to come in.”