English high streets given £10m boost

30 Mar 12
Ministers have awarded a total of £10m to councils across England to help them boost local high streets and get empty shops back into use.
By Richard Johnstone | 30 March 2012

Ministers have awarded a total of £10m to councils across England to help them boost local high streets and get empty shops back into use.

Local government minister Grant Shapps today issued the formal response to last December’s report on the future of high streets by retail consultant Mary Portas. One hundred authorities will each get £100,000 from the High Street Innovation Fund.

The government will also create a£500,000 fund to help town centres cover the set-up costs for Business Improvement Districts.

Shapps said that the government accepted Portas’s main recommendations, which aim to support high streets by ‘leveling the playing field’ with shopping centres.

It is implementing measures that represent ‘Portas plus’, he said, including plans to hold a National Markets Day to celebrate the role markets can play to encourage more visitors to town centres.

More town centre promotion pilots will also be launched to quickly implement the report’s recommendations. Twelve are already in place, made up of local authorities, landlords, business owners and local MPs.

Shapps said that the Portas review had ‘made crystal clear the stark challenge our high streets face’.

He added: ‘Her report has provided the catalyst for change that many towns have been craving. I now want to see people coming together to form their own town teams and [turn] their creative ideas into reality to ensure their high streets thrive long into the future.’

The Department for Communities and Local Government also announced that it would be made easier for councils to revoke byelaws that hinder efforts to get new markets and businesses up and running. The department will also consult on abolishing centrally set minimum parking charges.

The Local Government Association said the government had accepted points raised by town halls, including the need for more funding in areas with high numbers of empty shops.

Peter Box, chair of the LGA’s economy and transport board, said: ‘We now need a sustained focus on improving high streets in the years to come, particularly in light of figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development which show that more and more shoppers are using the internet instead.

‘High streets across the UK have suffered a cardiac arrest and councils are keen to work alongside government to deliver the necessary life support.’

Box welcomed the commitment to introduce new Business Improvement Districts but called for greater council control over local public transport, which could be used to improve access to local high streets.

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