Huddersfield empty shop revival plan to beat high street decline
Apr 18 2009 Huddersfield Daily Examiner
EMPTY shops in Huddersfield could be revived with artwork or taken over by the council for community use.
The moves comes amid Government attempts to stop the recession turning high streets into crime-ridden ghost towns.
Huddersfield, like many towns, has already had its share of shop closures, as retailers feel the strain and shoppers keep a firm grip on their purse strings.
High-profile shops on New Street and Market Street including Adams, Principles, Yorkshire Book Clearance, Zavvi and Offshoot have all closed.
Onto the Pack Horse Centre and the situation is just as grim, with another six shops closed – including a calendar shop, a shoe shop and clothes store.
Woolworths closed its doors for the final time in January and in the Shambles, Your Home Stores is shut and the former Body Shop unit has been vacant for more than a year since the company relocated to the Kingsgate Centre.
Earlier this week, the Communities Secretary Hazel Blears, attended a seminar of councils, business leaders, landlords and town centre managers, to set out a series of measures aimed at making it easier for local groups to take over vacant stores.
The measures are expected to include speeded-up planning procedures, extra powers for local councils to intervene and standard short-term leases as well as funding worth up to £3m to subsidise innovative schemes.
Ms Blears said: “Town centres are the heartbeat of every community and businesses are the foundation, so it is vital that they remain vibrant places for people to meet and shop throughout the downturn.
“Empty shops can be eyesores or crime magnets. Our ideas for reviving town centres will give communities the know-how to temporarily transform vacant premises into something innovative for the community – a social enterprise, a showroom for local artists or an information centre and stop the high street being boarded up.
“Our town centre first planning rules and business rate deferments are also helping small businesses in more direct ways during this difficult time.”
Alison Campbell from the Huddersfield Town Centre Partnership, said: “We think it’s a fantastic idea and the council does as well.
“It’s something we’d be very keen to see. The only problem is where the council isn’t the landlord or the administrators of a closed shop might not play ball.
“The will is not missing but the logistics can be a little bit problematic.
“But anything will help, markets, exhibitions and so on.
“We’re working quite hard to make something happen.”
In Barnsley the University of Huddersfield has already begun working with Barnsley Council on a project to re-open empty retail units on Cheapside as exhibition spaces for arts students.
Barnsley Council is also looking at the possibility of opening up the vacant units to local art and photography groups on the proviso that they host workshops for the public.