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Indies lambast £3m empty shops scheme

Independent retailers have slammed a new £3m Government initiative to regenerate high streets that have been hit by the recession.

The Government has launched a £3m fund to be distributed to 57 of England’s hardest-hit towns. Councils will use the funds to fill vacant units with projects such as art galleries or community learning centres on an interim basis while landlords seek to rent the properties.

However, angry independents that trade from some of the towns backed by the scheme told Drapers that the money could have been better spent supporting independent retailers before their stores had to close.

“It is a case of shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted,” said Paul Magee, owner of Stoke-on-Trent menswear retailer Gemini, which sells brands such as John Smedley and Camel Active. “You want indie retailers on the high street, not galleries. It might have done them good to market the town, and maybe give people training,” he added.

The Government maintains that the initiative is not about replacing commercial businesses, but about boosting consumer confidence.

Communities secretary John Denham said: “We know the downturn has really hurt high streets in areas of high deprivation across England. 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.”

However, Luisa Minchella, owner of womenswear indie Aria in Sunderland, whose brands include Oui and Joseph Ribkoff, said: “They should be putting that money into existing independents. It’s all very well having art galleries, but what about the shopping side of things?”

Councils affected include those in Sheffield, Nottingham, Newcastle upon Tyne, Blackpool, Bristol and Manchester.

Contact your local council town centre manager to find out how the scheme will affect your area.

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