Empty shops revival plan to prevent high street decline

Will Government measures help Brentford

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Temporarily converting empty shops into social enterprises, local art displays or learning centres will help innovative communities prevent high streets declining said Communities Secretary Hazel Blears on 14th April.

Ms Blears is chairing a seminar in Stockport with Culture Secretary Andy Burnham on tackling 'recession in the high street' with councils, business leaders, landlords and town centre managers.

The Government is also announcing new measures and up to 3m to help communities find creative ways to reduce the negative impact empty shops have on the high street - vital for town centre and business confidence.

The new provisions including special planning application waivers, standard interim-use leases, and temporarily leasing shops to councils will allow empty shops to get makeovers for use as cultural, community or learning services.

Chorley plan to set up a semi-permanent exhibition because of how popular turning empty shops into craft exhibitions, informal learning, and summer music workshops have proved.

An empty shop in Dewsbury was recently converted into a police and community centre, enabling local people to get fire or crime prevention advice and information on Sure Start, 'community safety rangers', and housing.

Many successful start-up businesses have also begun this way. For example Neal's Yard Remedies, the international cosmetics company, was started by Romy Fraser in a disused warehouse in Covent Garden in 1981.

Councils can also use licensing powers positively to permit things like farmers markets that bring local produce to the high street. North Lincolnshire District Council started a monthly market that revitalised the high street at weekends.

These measures are being published in a practical guide Looking after our Town Centres identifies the best ways and steps communities can take to keep town centres thriving.

The Government will introduce new rules soon to give existing shops that serve the community such as local post offices and pubs extra protections. These steps are part of wider action to help business during the downturn.

Councillor Andrew Dakers commented "It is good to see the growing interest from the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) in the importance of town centres to keep communities strong. It is now vital that Hounslow Council and landlords take up some of the practical ideas DCLG have put forward to get all the shop units filled on Brentford High Street.

"These are really difficult times for traders on Brentford High Street. They need all our support by shopping local as much as possible. "

April 17, 2009