0346 GMT February 22, 2020
The so-called future high street fund was announced by the chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond in the budget, and is intended to allow high streets to combat the challenges of the growing influence of online shopping by turning town centers into ‘vibrant community hubs’, theguardian.com reported.
The fund, which opened on Boxing Day, will allow councils to plough money into transport and converting retail units into homes.
It comes after the retailer Sir John Timpson, the owner of the shoe repair chain which carries his name, called for councils to be given more money to turn town centers into communities and meeting places, highlighting that high streets were not just about shopping.
Timpson led an expert panel which produced a report calling for a community-driven approach to transforming the county’s high streets. Though retail sales increased more than expected in November, from 1.4 percent the previous month, the picture for the high street remains bleak. For the three months to November, the sales growth was just 0.4 percent on the previous quarter.
The Local Government Association, which represents councils, welcomed the funding but warned that the bidding process must be ‘kept proportionate’ and called for flexibility in how the money can be spent.
Cllr Martin Tett, the Local Government Association’s economy spokesman, said, “Many councils throughout the country are already leading the way in transforming the future potential of their town centers in the face of unprecedented changes in shopping habits and the retail landscape.
“We are pleased that the government has acted by providing an injection of desperately needed funding into revitalizing our town centers, but it is important that the bidding process is kept proportionate and that councils have full flexibility over how this funding is spent as each place will require different solutions to their unique circumstances”.
High streets minister Jake Berry MP said, “We all know high streets are changing, we can’t hide from this reality. But we’re determined to ensure they continue to sit at the heart of our communities for generations to come.
“To do this we have to support investment in infrastructure, boosting local economies and ensuring people are able to get the most out of their local high streets. Empowering leaders on the ground is key too — they best understand the challenges facing their areas.
“Our future high streets fund will drive forward this change, transforming our town centers into the thriving community hubs of the future.”
Chair of the Town Centers Expert Panel, Timpson added, “By helping our towns create their own individual community hub, I believe we will have vibrant town centers to provide a much-needed place for face to face contact in the digital age”.
Up to £55 million of the fund will be set aside to support the regeneration of what the government calls “heritage high streets”, restoring old properties to transform them into work spaces or culture venues.