Council bid to fill disused shops in six key towns

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A YORKSHIRE council has signalled its desire to reduce the number of empty shop units in six key towns to less than 13 per cent.

Calderdale Council leaders are set to take action in a bid to reduce the number of empty units in Halifax, Elland, Brighouse, Sowerby Bridge, Hebden Bridge and Todmorden.

Three towns - Halifax, Elland and Sowerby Bridge - have seen relatively high rates of empty units - over 16 per cent in the case of Elland.

A new survey of vacancy trends is due later this year and anecdotally there is some “perceived upturn” on retail occupancy in some towns in Calderdale, according to a council report.

The authority has admitted that currently the resources dedicated to engaging with retailers is limited.

It used to employ an officer to focus on bringing empty retail properties back into use but that post no longer exists.

The authority is now proposing to recruit a senior officer, costing around £60,000 in total, to improve the retail sector over the next 18 months.

The council’s head of housing, environment and renewal, Mark Thompson, says the main objectives will be to reduce the average retail space vacancies to 11 per cent, with no main towns having vacancy rates over 13 per cent.

His report to the Cabinet committee will be discussed by councillors today.

He said: “Councillors will be aware of the scale and importance of the retail economy in Calderdale.

“All of Calderdale’s market towns have a significant retail offer and parts of Calderdale have a particular strength in terms of a distinctive independent retail sector.”

Retail is worth around £250m to the Calderdale economy.

Mr Thompson said around 21,100 people were employed in the local retail economy.

“The retail economy is particularly affected by the economic cycle and there are some signs that the downturn has impacted on parts of the Borough’s retail offer.

“Halifax, Elland and Sowerby Bridge have seen relatively high void rates.”

The report

If councillors do back plans to recruit an officer, the successful applicant will have several key objectives, including:

* Identifying problem and prominent vacant retail units and help bring them into use.

* Developing a varied programme of street markets.

* Creating innovative promotional campaigns.

* Getting stall holders more involved in market management.

* Helping deliver Christmas and other promotions.

* Supporting the development of a revitalised retail business association in Elland.

The Cabinet will also be asked to consider giving a grant of £41,000 to support the local retail sector in the run up to Christmas.

The early allocation of the money will help with planning pre-Christmas activity and is in addition to £90,000 already allocated for Christmas lighting.