AT least 17 sites given permission to be restaurants in Colchester are still not trading.

The sites range from the town centre to developing out of town retail parks.

The figures, quantified by Colchester’s High Steward Sir Bob Russell and verified by the Gazette, have prompted him to call for Colchester Council to rethink its restaurant strategy.

Sir Bob said he believed there could be at least 20 unoccupied restaurants but Colchester Council does not keep a record.

He said: “With the closure of restaurants behind the Town Hall and with so many premises with planning permission for restaurants which have never materialised, it suggests that market forces are showing there is simply no demand for yet more restaurants to be planned.

“I think the council needs to review its strategy for more restaurants and instead encourage owners to think of other uses for which they have buildings standing empty.

“For example, urge the East of England Co-operative Society to convert the ground floor of their former department store in Long Wyre Street into an indoor market as it does not appear the five restaurants for which they have planning permission are going to open any time soon.”

In addition to Long Wyre Street and three behind the town hall there are due to be two restaurants at the Curzon cinema in Queen Street but these have not materialised.

In High Street planning permission was granted for a restaurant opposite the former Fire Office.

Six restaurant units still need to be let out at the town’s forthcoming Northern Gateway scheme - with Brexit blamed for operators being reluctant to commit.

The leisure park had been set to open next year but it will now be in 2021.

And at the partly opened Stane Park development, there are due to be two more restaurants out of five but plans have stalled.

A spokesman said: “Phase two of the park, known as Stane Retail Park at the moment, is not focused on restaurants but we are currently working behind the scenes to secure new tenants for the rest of the retail park.”

Coast to Coast pulled out of Stane Park last September due to the “changing dynamics of the casual dining market”.

Bella Italia, due to occupy one of two remaining units, said it has not made a final decision on whether to go ahead with it.

A Curzon spokesman said it was unable to provide an update on the site’s restaurants as the landlord was unobtainable.

But the Co-op says there are imminent plans to redevelop Long Wyre Street to attract new tenants.

A council spokesman said: “We know that retailers nationwide are facing unprecedented pressures from fast-changing customer tastes, tighter household budgets and online shopping. As a result, town centres are having to compete harder than ever before.

“Nevertheless, several restaurants have opened relatively recently in the centre of town, including Wagamama’s, Turtle Bay and Five Guys, and Chiquito and Frankie and Benny’s in Stanway, demonstrating investor confidence in Colchester.“The council takes a strategic view on economic growth and on promoting vibrant and successful centres by creating attractive places that will attract businesses to the borough.”

“This includes working with the Business Improvement District to create an attractive environment for people to live, work and shop and to help businesses meet market-led demand.”