With more than 27,000 properties sitting vacant in England’s town centres, the Government’s plans to help declining high streets are urgently needed.
The Yorkshire Post’s Love Your High Street campaign, launched four weeks ago, has been raising awareness of some of the difficulties facing high streets and helping to shape the debate on matters such as how best to utilise empty buildings.
Unveiling the Government’s new Open Doors project, Cabinet minister James Brokenshire said it would see empty shops being opened up to groups offering services to the most vulnerable people. In turn this would help to tackle social problems such as crime, unemployment and loneliness which are linked to the demise of town centres.
Whilst the project certainly sounds promising on paper, there also needs to be a structure in place to ensure buildings are put to good use quickly.
Without national direction on how community groups can go about utilising such vacant units, and strategic leadership at regional and local level, those willing to take advantage for the greater good will end up being mired with paperwork and red tape.
This latest vision, coupled with Chancellor Philip Hammond’s Budget announcements for a £1.5bn fund to help councils improve high streets and help shops pay business rates, is evidence that the Government does recognise that action is needed. But Ministers need to realise time is running out to support – and save – our high streets. As such, this policy’s effectiveness will be judged by the number of former shops which are brought back into use.