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An empty gesture


It's hard to see the value in Communities Secretary John Denham's announcement today of a £3m package to rejuvenate high streets in 57 of what he calls the “hardest hit areas” in England.

Nine areas from the North East are included and each will receive £52,632. Mr Denham has suggested the money could be used to “transform their boarded up shops into something useful like a learning centre, meeting place for local people or showroom for local artists”.

But the small amounts of money on offer appear too little to make any real difference other than to send an advert that the Government considers these “hard hit” town centres with “their boarded up shops”. In fact, new private sector-led shopping developments are taking place in Newcastle, Hebburn, Morpeth and Gateshead.

What this does is highlight the absurdity of a situation in which the same Government that identifies a need to provide cash to bring empty property into use has been collecting billions in taxes from empty property rates, which took effect from almost precisely the start of the recession.

If councils in the North East have innovative ideas for using empty space in town centres they can - and do - work with local businesses to bring that about. They shouldn’t need a token gesture from Government to help them do so.