£500k boost for scheme aiming to bring empty high street shops back to life

March 26, 2021

A project to breathe new life into vacant shops and buildings in high streets across Bath and North East Somerset has been awarded £500,000.

Empty retail properties in Bath will be used for creative projects and pop-up businesses, with satellite projects in Keynsham and Midsomer Norton to follow across a two-year programme. 

The Vacant Units Action Project will be delivered by Bath & North East Somerset Council (B&NES) as part of its High Streets Renewal programme. The £500,000 funding from the West of England Combined Authority’s Recovery Fund will be match funded by the council and Bath BID (Business Improvement District) and in-kind support will also be provided.

It follows on from a successful pilot to celebrate local retail during the lead-up to Christmas 2020 when the council worked with local artists to promote 12 vacant city centre units by animating shop windows, encouraging two pop-up shops to open.

B&NES deputy leader and cabinet member for resources, Cllr Richard Samuel, said: “We want to do everything we can to help our businesses recover from the impact of Covid-19, which is why we have been working with our partner organisations to share knowledge on effective ways to support our high streets.

“This targeted project will creatively promote vacant properties as viable letting opportunities and will make our high streets as attractive as possible to potential new occupiers and visitors.

“It will also support the investments into our public realm schemes to provide high-quality public spaces at Milsom Street, Kingsmead Square, Keynsham and Midsomer Norton.” 

West of England Mayor Tim Bowles added: “Through my Regional Recovery Plan, the combined authority is investing in this innovative town centre re-structuring programme to revitalise areas hit hard by Covid-19.

“I want to re-invigorate the neighbourhoods we all care about – so that residents have everything they need within a 15-minute walking or cycling radius of their home, including decent, well- paid jobs, local shops and restaurants, leisure and cultural activities, and green infrastructure.

The pandemic brought into focus how important this is, and with a combined authority in the West of England, we have the tools to make it happen.”

Bath BID chief executive Allison Herbert, pictured, said: “As part of the Bath BID’s work to create the environment for businesses in the city to succeed, we are continually seeking innovative solutions to empty shops on the high street.

“We are pleased to be working in partnership with the council on this project, which will ensure the city centre’s vacant premises are utilised and that the high street remains welcoming, helping retailers and hospitality businesses to thrive as the city recovers from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

The council is also set to refresh Milsom Street in Bath city centre ahead of the reopening of non-essential shops and the reintroduction of outdoor dining on April 12. The street will be resurfaced between next Monday and Wednesday – March 29 and 31 – including overnight works.

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