Councils to bid for share of £675m fund to invigorate English high streets | Business

Councils in England are being invited to bid for a share in a new £675m government fund set up to help reinvigorate their beleaguered high streets.

The so-called future high street fund was announced by the chancellor, 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 centres into “vibrant community hubs”.

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 centres 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% the previous month, the picture for the high street remains bleak. For the three months to November, the sales growth was just 0.4% 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 centres 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 revitalising our town centres, 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 centres into the thriving community hubs of the future.”

Chair of the Town Centres Expert Panel, Timpson added: “By helping our towns create their own individual community hub, I believe we will have vibrant town centres to provide a much-needed place for face to face contact in the digital age.”

Up to £55m 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.

This article was amended on 26 December 2018 to clarify in headline and text that the government fund is for councils in England.

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