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Grants to fight town centre blight

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Areas hit hardest by the recession are getting a share of £3m to find creative ways of reducing the negative impact that empty shops are having on the High Street.

Communities secretary John Denham said the government was determined to help town centres remain vibrant places for people to meet and shop.

Each of 57 chosen councils will receive a grant of more than £50,000 to use as they see fit.

Mr Denham said: “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.”

However, the British Property Federation claimed the £52,632 grants were “too little, too late” and had been disproportionately awarded to Labour-controlled councils.

Of the 57 recipients, 20 were Labour-controlled but just nine were Conservative councils and six Liberal Democrat.Fifty of the awards went to the Midlands or the north of England.

The DCLG guide, ‘Looking after our towncentres’, published in April 2009, sets out other ways how councils can encourage more centre activities: traditional retail and farmers markets, local festivals or other entertainments.

Planning rules have been changed to make it easier to use vacant shops for a range of other purposes.

In addition to the grants, Arts Council England has announced an extra £500,000 to help artists turn vacant high street shops into attractive and vibrant places.

 

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