A FORMER trader has claimed Marlow is "becoming a shanty town", bemoaning high rents and the loss of independent stores.

Barry Young, owner of Marlow Flooring, said the line of empty shops in Spittal Street, including his former premise looks 'horrible'.

He was among three traders who moved out recently because the landlord, Sorbon Estates, owned by Michael Shanly, decided to refurbish the buildings.

The company told the Marlow Free Press redevelopment of the properties, including apartments, is taking place and new businesses will move in next May.

Marlow's Mayor Jocelyn Towns dismissed the suggestions that the town was looking horrible.

But Mr Young was critical of the section of the town centre where his business used to be.

He said: "Marlow is becoming a shanty town it doesn't look very pleasant or encouraging especially at this time of year when Marlow needs to promote itself around Christmas when it needs to make money. It's so sad.

"Marlow has lost it's attraction. It used to be somewhere I could go down and there wasn't a thing I couldn't get. Now, there's no butchers and its lost all of its 'character' shops."

Mr Young has moved his business to Holyport, Berkshire, where he says his overheads, primarily the rent, is significantly lower.

He branded the level of rents in Marlow as 'disgusting' and claimed many independent shops would never return as a result. He said he can still operate in Marlow and visits clients in the town but having his new base is saving him substantial amounts of money.

Two of the empty Spittal Street shops are listed to let for at least £30,000 per year on the website Shop Property.

Adam Marlow, 29, was co-owner of Mekong, a neighbouring shop to Marlow Flooring, which also recently closed.

Mr Marlow, who is also part of the Marlow Chamber of Trade executive, agreed rents were too high generally, and said of Spittal Street: "It looks really bad. The first thing you see as you go into the town is a row of empty shops."

A number of shops have left the town recently, including Aroma the coffee shop. However, others have come in as well, such as Gather and Hunt in the High Street and Bennetton's reopened last week in Liston Court. Marlow Chamber of Trade has said the town is doing well compared to others in the recession.

Jonathan Gould, Senior Estates Manager, at Sorbon Estates, said: "The rents for any town’s properties including Marlow are ultimately set by the market.

"We take advice from local agents who act for both landlords and tenants, who know the market and who are acutely aware of the activity in the town.

"Rents that are quoted on properties therefore reflect the most recent activity and this ensures that they are always competitive and in line with the market.

"If rents do increase or decrease in a town this reflects the retailer’s desire (or lack of) to be represented in that town, rather than a landlord trying to artificially increase the rent. In any case, our particular approach has always been to attract the right retailer for the town rather than the highest rent."

He said "attractive shop wraps" are set to be placed on the empty units because the firm is "keenly aware that these shops are key buildings on the entrance to Marlow".

Mayor Jocelyn Towns strongly refuted the 'shanty town' claims.

She said: "This is far, far from the truth.  In general, the town is looking fabulous, and it looked brilliant throughout the summer.  It may be that the particular building in question isn’t looking good at the moment – that’s why it’s scheduled for refurbishment.

"We are so much luckier than many other Towns.   We have a vibrant High Street, shops don’t tend to remain closed for very long, and much better that they become cafes or restaurants than left empty. 

"Also, if you want to stop for a coffee and a chat, the coffee shops are always full, so there is obviously a good demand."