A MAJOR player in commercial property in Marlow has stressed it feels “an immense responsibility” to the town following criticism about empty shops.

Sorbon Estates, owned by millionaire Michael Shanly, has insisted the retail units in Spittal Street will not stay shut for long, though they will not be ready until May 2013.

Above the empty stores, previously Marlow Flooring, Mekong and an Indian takeaway, new two bedroom apartments are being built and the buildings are being extended.

Former traders who occupied the now empty Spittal Street units have severely criticised the appearance they have given to a key part of the town centre.

One, Barry Young, owner of Marlow Flooring, now based in Holyport, even went as far as to claim Marlow was "becoming a shanty town" - a suggestion rebuffed by Mayor Jocelyn Towns.

Jonathan Gould, Senior Estates Manager, Sorbon Estates, said the external appearance of the properties is being made more attractive.

Shop wraps will be fitted soon as an interim measure during redevelopment and Mr Gould said the company is “keenly aware these shops are key buildings on the entrance to Marlow”.

He said: “We do feel an immense responsibility to the town, the retailers and retail customers and it is important to us that our development plans give a positive impression about our investment and our long term commitment to Marlow.

“We could not have completed this development in a piecemeal fashion, the shops will only appear empty for a short period of time. When the shop wraps are installed and details of our new development and the images of potential retailers are clearly visible, the impression will be quite different. Spittal Street is an important retailing street, so making sure that it presents well is essential.”

Mr Gould said: “We are actively marketing the retail space now and our agents have received encouraging preliminary interest from a variety of businesses, including independent and national retailers. As always, we are very keen to work with good quality independent stores that can add character to the street and the town.”

A frequent gripe among residents in the town in recent years has been the number of larger, chain shops and the disappearance of independents.

Mr Gould said: “As an impassioned stakeholder in Marlow we have always been conscious about attracting the right type of retailer and this includes smaller and independent businesses that can bring something new to the town.”

The new apartments will be ready next month. Mr Gould said this accommodation will have an important knock-on benefit for businesses.

He also believes, despite a number of recently vacated shops, Marlow is still an attractive place for new businesses.

He said: “It should be noted that the majority of the agency boards that are visible in Marlow are for office accommodation however there is little vacant retail space on the market in Marlow, particularly when you compare it to other local towns. “There is a continued strong demand for retail units in Marlow so it is certainly a desirable town in that sense.”