£100k boost for our town centre shops

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CIVIC chiefs are set to decide how a £100,000 funding boost as part of a TV celebrity’s bid to revamp the high street will be spent.

Hartlepool Borough Council has been given the six-figure sum to bring empty shops back into use as part of the £10m High Street Innovation Fund.

21 October 2009.......    Mary Portas at the Light shopping centre in Leeds, where she judged students bag design competition.

21 October 2009....... Mary Portas at the Light shopping centre in Leeds, where she judged students bag design competition.

It comes after Mary Portas, a retail advisor, journalist and TV presenter, was approached by the Government to help rejuvenate the country’s retail sector.

Now Mayor Stuart Drummond, portfolio holder for regeneration, economic development and skills, will sit down to help identify innovative ways for businesses and independent retailers to thrive.

Around a fifth of commercial units in Hartlepool town centre are vacant and this money will be used to try and turn that around.

The Portas Review was published in December last year in response to rising town centre vacancy rates, the challenge of out-of-town shopping centres and the changes in the way people shop, especially with the growth of internet shopping.

The Portas Review recommends the establishment of “Town Teams” to bring together landlords, retailers, council officers and community representatives to drive forward the improvements.

Local authorities are also being urged to look at using their powers to provide business rate discounts to small businesses and independent retailers.

Car parking is also a key area and councils are being encouraged to review parking provisions and charges and local authorities are encouraged to compile a public register of high street landlords.

A report by Damien Wilson, the council’s assistant director of regeneration and planning, said: “A wide range of activities are eligible for support including the provision of business rate discounts for new start-up businesses taking on empty properties.

“Landlords will be encouraged to provide match funding. Temporary enterprises that will occupy vacant units are eligible for support.

“The funding can also be used to create apprenticeship schemes to train young people in shop fitting and refurbishment.”

Council figures show that 21.8 per cent of commercial units in town are empty, compared to 17.7 per cent in 2009.

The Portas Review includes the sums of £100,000 going to councils to rejuvenate areas, a £1m Future High-Street X-Fund, which will be awarded to the locations that deliver the most creative and effective schemes to revitalising the high streets in a year’s time, and a £500,000 fund for Business Improvement Districts to help town centres access loans for their set-up costs.

Earlier this year Government ministers said Mary Portas’s review made “crystal clear” the stark challenge facing Britain’s high street.

The council’s economic regeneration forum will create a working group to produce an action plan aimed at breathing new life into the town centre.

The portfolio meeting is due to take place on Friday, May 18 at 9.30am at the Civic Centre, in Victoria Road.