Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government
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£3million empty shop revival fund for most deprived and hardest hit high streets

The Government is today making £3m available to help areas hit hardest by the recession find creative ways to reduce the negative impact empty shops are having on the high street, announced Communities Secretary John Denham.

Many high streets in areas of high deprivation are seeing empty shops boarded up because of the downturn, which is impacting on consumer and business confidence.

The Government is determined to help ensure town centres remain vibrant places for people to meet and shop. John Denham is today providing £3m to help 57 of the hardest hit areas find creative ways to use their empty shops and re-open them as facilities for communities.

Each council will receive a grant of more than £50,000 to use as they see fit on ideas to boost town centres and transform empty shops into something useful such as a meeting place, a learning centre or a even a showroom for local artists.

The grants are part of a wider package of real help the Government has put in place for town centres, including a new practical guide launched in April to help high streets combat the recession.

Many successful start-up businesses have begun this way. Wayne Hemmingway has recently launched his street Kiosks for aspiring designers and Neal's Yard Remedies, the international cosmetics company, started in a disused warehouse in Covent Garden. Many councils are taking their own action too, for example Camden has opened up temporary 'pop-up' shops.

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 re-open 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 top tips and new support in our town centre revival guide are already helping small businesses during this difficult time. Together these steps will help high streets continue to be vibrant places that remain at the heart of the community throughout the downturn."

The Government's Looking after our town centres guide was welcomed by the Association of Town Centre Management for giving councils a host of tips and ideas for combating the effects of the downturn. It has already been downloaded over 9,000 times in only a few months.

The guide sets out how councils can encourage activities like traditional retail and farmers markets, local festivals or other entertainments that can bring added attractions to communities and high streets during the downturn. The Government has already changed the planning rules to make it easier to use vacant shops for a range of other purposes.

Other measures include the promotion of special temporary community leases called 'meanwhile uses' that allow local groups to temporarily use a vacant property rent free while the landlord seeks a permanent new business. This means the landlord reduces his property bills costs and that the building is maintained.

With these meanwhile leases, young people could run their own safe space for learning and leisure; local indoor markets could be set up and local artists could help to turn eyesores into local attractions.

In addition to the grants made available today, Arts Council England is also announcing an extra £500,000 to help artists turn vacant high street shops into attractive and vibrant places.

Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw said:

"Culture and creativity bring life to our town centres. Transforming empty premises into galleries, studios or rehearsal spaces will help restore confidence and regenerate local communities. Instead of boarded-up shop fronts we want to see high streets being used by local people in a way that will excite and engage them. Britain has a world class reputation as a creative nation - helping our cultural talent to develop could result in lasting benefit."

Notes to editors

1. Funding was allocated to the bottom third most deprived local authority areas, based on the Index of Multiple Deprivation, and the highest vacancy rates. The 57 LA grants will go to:

District Allocation Region
Corby £52,632 East Midlands
Nottingham City £52,632 East Midlands
Boston £52,632 East Midlands
Mansfield £52,632 East Midlands
Ashfield £52,632 East Midlands
Derby City £52,632 East Midlands
Leicester City £52,632 East Midlands
Harlow £52,632 East of England
Great Yarmouth £52,632 East of England
Ipswich £52,632 East of England
Hackney £52,632 London
Gateshead £52,632 North East
Middlesbrough £52,632 North East
Hartlepool £52,632 North East
South Tyneside £52,632 North East
Darlington £52,632 North East
Sunderland £52,632 North East
Newcastle upon Tyne £52,632 North East
North Tyneside £52,632 North East
Durham £52,632 North East
Rossendale £52,632 North West
Salford £52,632 North West
Barrow-in-Furness £52,632 North West
Blackpool £52,632 North West
Blackburn with Darwen £52,632 North West
Burnley £52,632 North West
Halton £52,632 North West
Rochdale £52,632 North West
Copeland £52,632 North West
Liverpool £52,632 North West
Tameside £52,632 North West
Pendle £52,632 North West
Knowsley £52,632 North West
Manchester £52,632 North West
Sefton £52,632 North West
Bolton £52,632 North West
Hyndburn £52,632 North West
Preston £52,632 North West
Wigan £52,632 North West
Thanet £52,632 South East
Hastings £52,632 South East
Bristol £52,632 South West
Stoke-on-Trent £52,632 West Midlands
Walsall £52,632 West Midlands
Wolverhampton £52,632 West Midlands
Coventry £52,632 West Midlands
Sandwell £52,632 West Midlands
Dudley £52,632 West Midlands
Birmingham £52,632 West Midlands
Rotherham £52,632 Y&H
Kingston Upon Hull £52,632 Y&H
Kirklees £52,632 Y&H
NE Lincolnshire £52,632 Y&H
Doncaster £52,632 Y&H
Leeds £52,632 Y&H
Barnsley £52,632 Y&H
Sheffield £52,632 Y&H

2. The Looking after our Town Centres guide can be found at:

3. Last month, Housing and Planning Minister John Healey put important measures from the guide in place to make it easier for local councils to allow greater planning flexibilities in their town centres and other areas. This included giving them special waivers to allow changes to large developments and town centres with needing planning permission.

4. Standard 'interim-use' leases - landlords need to be assured that there is a proper legal basis for any temporary uses and that they will be able to take the empty premises back as soon commercially viable. To help minimise the cost of setting up such arrangements, Government is creating specimen legal documents that landlords can use for temporary occupiers.

5. Temporary leasing of shops for community uses - Not all landlords will want to lease to temporary occupiers, if this means taking their property off the market. New "meanwhile" leases, which are being tested by the Development Trusts Association, can help promote community uses while properties remain on the market. The Government has asked property law specialists Denton Wilde Sapte to help finalise the development the special empty shop leases expected to be made available next month.

6. The Government's 'Real Help for Business now' (external link) plan offers free business health checks, skills training, a £20b working capital scheme and an aim to pay Government suppliers within 10 days. 70 per cent of all properties will now be exempted from empty property rates and businesses can also defer 60 per cent of next year's rate increase and transitional relief increase to the following two years.

New Business rate rules now allow business ratepayers to apply to their local council to defer over the next two financial years: 3 per cent of this year's entire bill; and 60 per cent of the increase because transitional relief has come to an end.

All unoccupied properties are eligible for full rate relief for the first 3 months (or 6 months for industrial properties) they fall vacant and a new exemption that has just come into effect means that all empty properties with a rateable value up to £15,000 - this covers 70 per cent of all properties, and if unoccupied these properties will be eligible for full relief meaning they won't pay any empty rates at all in 2009-10

7. Town centre planning rules already give council the power to refuse a new development that might harm the high street. Local planning and licensing powers can also limit a particular type of shop in a town to prevent too much of the same business or unwanted nightlife.

8. Local Business can agree with councils to establish Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) in order to collect an additional levy from its business rates to improve the town centre. 71 BIDs have been established since 2004.


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