Page last updated at 13:15 GMT, Thursday, 13 August 2009 14:15 UK

High Street scheme 'not enough'

A High Street
Empty shops are the most visible sign of decline, according to the BRC

A government scheme to turn empty shops in England into community facilities has been criticised as not enough to rejuvenate High Streets.

Local authorities in 57 of England's most deprived areas are being given about £50,000 each to find "creative" ways to use vacant stores.

But the British Retail Consortium (BRC) says that art galleries and community groups will not attract shoppers.

It predicts that 15% of High Street shops will be empty by the end of 2009.

This would be more than double the 7% of stores that were vacant at the start of the year.

'Modest'

Communities Secretary John Denham said the grants would help "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," he added.

But the BRC's director general Stephen Robertson described the government's £3m scheme as "modest", comparing it with £60m earmarked for shops in Scotland.

"Many High Streets are going past a tipping-point and into decline. We're seeing one in eight shops closing and insolvencies have doubled," he said.

"But customers won't come in for rows of learning centres and art galleries."

Alternative attractions

Mr Robertson called on local authorities to provide better transport to bring people into shopping areas, and to use car parks as a public service, rather than a means of raising revenue.

Tackling anti-social behaviour in shopping areas would attract customers and also cut retail crime, he added.

A spokesperson for Communities & Local Government said that the grants were "just one part of the government's wider real help support to make sure town centres remain vibrant places throughout the downturn".

These included exemptions from empty property rates, and tax payment deferrals.

Councils have also been given tips for combating the effects of the downturn - including using farmers' markets, local festivals and other attractions.

Other measures include the promotion of temporary community leases, allowing local groups to use a vacant property rent-free while the landlord seeks a permanent new business.



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