THE number of new businesses setting up in Colchester has hit a record high.

A total of 758 were registered in the first six months of 2012 – 90 more than the first half of last year, according to a report.

Experts attribute the boom to the improving town centre, burgeoning cultural scene and good links to London.

Michelle Reynolds, chairman of Colchester Retail Business Association, said: “It shows there is confidence in the town. When you compare Colchester to Chelmsford and Ipswich, we are doing reasonably well.

“We have Colchester Business and Enterprise Agency and Essex University , which offer specialist advice to businesses.

“It’s not just about opening a business, but developing it. I’m not sure Chelmsford and Ipswich have that help on the doorstep.”

Mrs Reynolds said it was important to remember some businesses were struggling, too.

Paul Smith, Colchester councillor for business and resources, said the council had been encouraging new businesses for many years.

He attributed part of the increase to ex-City workers starting their own businesses. He said: “Quite a lot of people have been made redundant from City jobs. They want to do something positive and have been turning hobbies into businesses.’’

Mr Smith said the council was looking at introducing rules in September to allow it to favour businesses which want to employ local residents, rather than those from out of the area.

EU law means the council cannot discriminate in favour of local companies.

The figures were in a report from Duport Associates, which registers new companies.

Managing director Peter Valaitis said: “Colchester’s regeneration is attracting business start-ups. This is a great place to set up a company.

“New businesses will benefit from the town’s many assets and they, in turn, will bring more wealth to the area.”