Fifteen towns share £1.5m aid to revive High Streets

image captionMore than one in ten shops on UK High Streets are empty, figures show

Fifteen areas in England are to share £1.5m in aid as part of a government scheme to regenerate the High Street.

The plan has been spearheaded by retail expert Mary Portas, who has described the traditional High Street as being at crisis point.

Twelve towns, dubbed as Portas' Pilots, were given cash to rejuvenate their shopping areas earlier this year.

High Streets in London, Liverpool, Hatfield, Brighton are among those to benefit from the new round of funding.

The 15 areas are: Ashford; Berwick; Braintree; London Road in Brighton; Hatfield; Royal Leamington Spa; Lodge Lane in Liverpool; the Cut in the Waterloo area of central London; Forest Hill in south London; Chrisp Street, Watney Market, Roman Road in Tower Hamlets, east London; Loughborough; Lowestoft; Morecambe; Rotherham, and Tiverton.

The funding for the three London areas is to be provided by the Greater London Authority, while the government will put up the remaining £1.2m.

The areas say they will use the funding in different ways. For example, Tiverton in Devon says it plans to improve parking facilities to encourage more visitors and tourists, while in Liverpool aspiring young entrepreneurs will be offered a mentoring service.

More than 400 towns made applications for funding and business support following a report by Ms Portas into the state of the High Street.

Emma King, town centre manager in Lowestoft, which is one of the successful bidders, said it should make a big difference to them.

"It's going to open up such a lot of advice and information for us," she told BBC News.

"It's not only the £100,000 funding that we'll get, which of course we're going to spend wisely and will help enormously, but it's also raising the town's profile."

Those areas unsuccessful so far will still be able to bid for a share of a £5.5m being made available for individual projects, Local Government Minister Grant Shapps said.

"Things are tough for everybody, and retail in particular," Mr Shapps said.

Latest figures show the recession in the UK deepening and the output of the retail sector falling.

"This process isn't going to just wipe away the backdrop of what's going on in the eurozone and the rest of it, but it is part of the solution," he said.

Cutting red tape

More than 11% of town centre shops are currently empty across the UK and the number of shoppers has been falling.

Last week, the Department for Communities announced measures to try to revitalise High Streets, in response to recommendations in Ms Portas's report.

Ministers say they will cut red tape to make it easier for business people to move into empty premises and open so-called pop-up shops.

Retailers will now also have up to two years to apply for planning permission instead of having to do so immediately.

But critics suggest high rents and rates are a more serious obstacle to reviving High Streets.

Shadow planning minister Roberta Blackman-Woods said: "There are now a record 23,406 empty shops in town centres alone but ministers are still failing to grasp the seriousness of the situation.

"This government's failed economic policy and double-dip recession made in Downing Street is clearly damaging High Streets across the country and short-term schemes like this will not be enough to save them."

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