Deryn Summers finds out why North Street, Brighton is tipped as the next major shopping venue in the city.

North Street is a dismal sight and it has had a hard time in recent years, but business leaders believe the tide is turning.

At the top demolition work has left a gaping hole in the road and empty premises line the junction with New Road.

The road is reduced to a single carriageway while resurfacing work continues.

Scorpio and the Halifax are the latest businesses to flee.

With bustling Churchill Square at its peak and the high-class boutiques of East Street at its base, North Street should be ideally placed to clean up in the retail market.

But its kudos has plunged as first Vokins and then Hanningtons department stores shut their doors.

Three years ago the shops attracted tens of thousands of customers.

The boarded-up stores that line its pavements are testament to the street's decline.

Despite its ramshackle appearance, North Street is being tipped as a major success story for the future.

Developers and business leaders are talking of a renaissance within as little as 12 months.

The major developments that are making the thoroughfare look such a mess are the first signs of the turn around.

The huge gap next to Boots where Hotshots once stood is set to house three shops when building is completed early next year.

Developer Simons Estates has just revealed Sports Soccer is to take two levels to relocate and expand its business from Churchill Square. Outdoor goods specialist Free Spirit has signed up for a smaller unit.

Duncan Tindall, development surveyor for Simons Estates, said major stores were clamouring to secure the remaining space.

He said: "We think North Street is on the up and up. Western Road is looking a bit sad these days and perhaps people are responding to that.

"It's an exciting place to retail, particularly if you look at the type of traders that are moving in."

The shops on the Hotshots site will mean more than a growing confidence in the future of North Street.

They will provide a vital retail link between chains like Waterstones and Boots at one end and the vibrant North Laine further down, instead of a drab succession of commercial buildings.

A £1 million scheme on a housing and restaurant complex in the colonnade at the corner of New Road is also bringing fresh confidence.

The work may appear to be another unsightly inconvenience but it will provide a home for the trendy Quod restaurant chain.

Further down the road, the former Alliance & Leicester Building Society is being refitted to become a shop.

Developers are renovating the former Norwich Union building in Prince's Place into apartments and premises for a clothing store and two restaurants.

And when the scaffolding comes off the Clock Tower it will be restored to its 1888 splendour.

Tony Mernagh, of the Brighton City Centre Business Forum, believes the Hanningtons site will fill quickly.

He said it would encourage North Street's potential to become an overspill area from East Street and a prime location for quality shops.

It would mean finally shaking off its image as a mere corridor between the old and the new.

The developments are also adding housing to predominantly retail areas.

The Hotshots development, housed in a contemporary glass and steel building, will include 14 loft-style apartments.

Another ten flats will be created in the colonnade project and the art deco Norwich Union building will be converted into 24 homes.

There is also speculation the upper levels of the Hanningtons building will be converted into flats.

But not everyone shares Mr Mernagh's confidence.

Brighton and Hove city councillor Geoffrey Theobald, who became so concerned about the state of the road earlier this year he called for an inquiry, is among the dissenters.

He said "Hanningtons closing has been a disaster. It will encourage more people to shop outside Brighton and Hove. We've also got other closures in North Street.

"The city itself has proved to be not as welcoming as it could be for people who want to drive down.

"I am worried about the long-term effect of Hanningtons. I think North Street will continue to suffer until there's another draw to bring people in."

Traders remain sceptical about a change in their fortunes.

One shop manager, who did not want to be named, said: "There are some positive developments and I'm sure they'll make a difference given time.

"But we have to continue trading with all this disruption. A year can be a long time for a small business."