The government is considering making it easier to convert empty shops into homes to help breathe new life into ailing high streets.
A consultation on the relaxation of planning rules and improved access to regeneration funding under the Business Improvement District scheme, are two of the measures to be recommended following the latest review of the Portas Pilots.
The Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) Loans Fund has been launched, with details of how businesses can apply to be published over the summer. Under the BID scheme local businesses can access cash for regeneration funded by a local increase in business rates. There are currently 150 BIDs operating in England. The government has pledged £500,000 to support it.
Planning relaxations will be consulted on over the next six months but moot the idea of allowing the conversion of retail space on side streets to residential property. According to the review this will potentially: “bring more life into town centres and increase footfall”.
“The new changes will mean people can bring empty properties on the high street back into use for a wide range of new uses,” it said.
The government scheme to revive struggling high streets had initially been led by retail guru Mary Portas.
The newly established Future High Street Forum has now been tasked to deliver on the findings from the pilot project. The forum is jointly led by the local growth minister Mark Prisk and Alex Gourlay, chief executive of the Health and Beauty Division at Alliance Boots.
It was also announced that Love Your Local Market fortnight will run again from May 14 to 28, 2014. The Department for Transport is to give £1.8 billion to local authorities to improve transport infrastructure, including roads, pathways and cycle routes to improve high street accessibility.
Last summer 27 Portas Pilots were set up, 24 supported by government and a further three backed by the Mayor of London.