New powers to revive town centre shops that have sat empty for over 12 months – as civic leaders express hopes for more leisure options in Chesterfield

Empty shops in Chesterfield’s high street could be set for a new lease of life – as the Government revealed plans to help revive empty town centre shops.

Earlier this month, the Government announced new powers, aiming to help communities take back control of their high streets and revive empty shops to accelerate regeneration.

High Street Rental Auctions, a new local authority power to combat high street vacancy, will allow local leaders who know their area best to take control of empty properties blighting their high streets and rent them out to local businesses that want to use them.

The new powers are designed to help councils level up their high streets and tackle wide-ranging issues stemming from prolonged high street emptiness exacerbated by the pandemic, such as low footfall – which leads to struggling businesses, increased unemployment and anti-social behaviour.

Where a high street shop has been empty for over a year, High Street Rental Auctions will allow local leaders to step in and auction off a rental lease for up to 5 years. Auctions will take place with no reserve price, giving local businesses and community groups the opportunity to occupy space on the high street at a competitive market rate.

Jacob Young MP, a minister from the Department for Levelling Up, said: “We want to bring high streets back to life and these new levelling up powers will help do just that.

“A lively high street brings an irreplaceable community spirit – one that is unique to its own area – along with new jobs and opportunities for local people.

“These new powers will enable local communities to take back control, backed by over £15 billion of levelling up funding which is transforming towns and left-behind communities across the UK.”

Howard Borrell, Chairman of the Chesterfield and District Civic Society, said that they welcomed the proposals - and hoped that it might lead to increased footfall in the town centre by way of creating new leisure outlets for residents.

He said: “Chesterfield and District Civic Society is aware of the soon-to-be introduced new powers that are being brought in to help regenerate high streets. High Street Rental Auctions is the name of the new power that will allow local leaders to take control of empty properties and rent them out to local businesses that want them.

“Our view is that the changes will provide a good opportunity to better engage in positive dialogue with the distant landlords who, in many cases, currently have little connection with the area. There is a limit to how much retail the town can sustain but footfall can be improved by the introduction of greater leisure (e.g. restaurants, boutique cinema, indoor games such as modern darts, bowling and putting) and additional housing and the spin-off businesses that spring up to support such developments.”

“It has to be recognised that out-of or edge-of town developments are popular because customers can park (for free) nearby and carry bulky items back to their vehicle easily; our shopping habits will not return to those of fifty years ago but we can look to revitalise towns by welcoming new initiatives that focus on leisure and culture (the new theatre and museum will be a huge boost) and actively encourage new footfall.

“Of course, there are buildings in the centre of Chesterfield that require new life breathing into them, but it's equally important to recognise that the buildings are privately owned and, often, remotely managed. The owners will let to whoever will pay the asking price but the Civic Society asks that they be innovative and think carefully about how they can best attract bidders who will look to utilise them in a way that seeks to enliven the town centre, possibly by bringing in new forms of entertainment that will appeal to a broader section of the community.”

Councillor Tricia Gilby, leader of Chesterfield Borough Council, said: “We are awaiting further guidance from Government about the new High Street Rental Auction powers, but this scheme has the potential to support our wider regeneration plans in both Chesterfield and Staveley.“Over the next few years millions of pounds will be invested in both town centres. Our Revitalising the Heart of Chesterfield project is set to start on site this summer and will improve the look, flow and feel of our town centre, including a reimagined market area designed to support a wide range of events and markets. Chesterfield town centre will also benefit from the Long Term Plan For Towns funding, which will see £20 million invested over the next ten years. A new Town Board has been set up and in the coming weeks they will be seeking residents’ views, to develop a plan for how this funding will be spent.

“Through the Staveley Town Deal we are leading the regeneration of Staveley town centre with improvements planned in the market square including, an enlarged public space to support a wide variety of events, new outdoor seating, natural play equipment and improved lighting and paving across the square.

“As we achieve our vision for these town centre spaces there is the potential that the new auction powers could help to limit the number of empty properties and support a wider range of uses for town centre spaces. Over the next few months, we will receive more details from the Government, and we will provide further updates as they become available.”

A photo gallery of some of the empty premises that could potentially be revived across the town can be found below.

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