13 Aug, 2009

£3m revival for run-down high streets

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

Councils in deprived areas to get £50,000 each to turn boarded-up shops into art galleries or community centres

Ministers today announced a £3m fund to help revive English high streets hit by the recession.

The money will be shared between some of England’s hardest-hit areas and will allow councils to replace boarded-up shops with projects such as art galleries or community learning centres.

A total of 57 local authorities have been given grants worth more than £50,000 each to help prevent their high streets from becoming ghost towns.

The communities secretary, John Denham, said: “We know that the downturn has really hurt high streets in areas of high deprivation across England.

“These grants will help to transform and reopen empty shops as part of our real help to keep town centres vibrant and combat the recession.

“Those councils will now be able to use our funding to come up with their own creative ideas to transform their boarded-up shops into something useful like a learning centre, meeting place for local people or showroom for local artists.

“There is no need to see unused shops on our high streets going to waste, especially when we know that it doesn’t take a lot to turn a vacant shop into something beneficial for the community.”

The fashion designer Wayne Hemingway is involved in a scheme in Gateshead in which an empty building will be turned into a business space for local creative industries.

“This is about giving the creative community a helping hand and putting empty units to good use,” Hemingway said. “It has the potential to attract leaders and entrepreneurs to Gateshead and give the local economy a boost.

“The creative sector is now one of the biggest drivers of the UK economy, and yet there are very few facilities to promote entrepreneurship in this area.

“Nationally, we are losing our low-cost start-up opportunities. Places that used to provide low-cost opportunities for independent start-ups in prime positions are disappearing as our towns and cities contribute to the worrying ‘clone town Britain’ label.

“At a time when overseas competition is addressing this issue, Britain should start to also address it to retain its creative edge.”

In April, the government set out a series of measures aimed at making it easier for local groups to take over vacant stores.

They included speeded-up planning procedures, extra powers for local councils to intervene and standard short-term leases.

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