Winning battle to breathe fresh life into city streets with empty shops
IT had been a life-long dream for Andy Cooper and Sean Hutchinson to set up their own furniture business – and last week they opened the doors to their new shop in Derby Road, Nottingham.
It was the first time the unit had been open for five years.
It was one of 16 empty shops on the road identified by Nottingham City Council.
The council set up a task force to look at each one, why it was empty and put aside £10,000 of Government funding to help bring them back into use. That was in April. Now the council says six are already under offer or let and they are confident the other 10 will be let.
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The council plans to roll the project out across the city to target other problem areas including Upper Parliament Street, Hockley, Wheeler Gate and Market Street to try to bring the city's 199 empty shops back into use.
The council has £90,000 of Government funding and says it also intends to apply for further regeneration grants for some areas.
Mr Cooper, who has opened Brown Dog Interiors in Derby Road with his business partner, said he visited a few empty units with the council on the road before settling on the one he is now in.
Despite the high number of empty units, he said it was a road he wanted to be on.
"It's hard to find a shop this size and with the furniture we've got we needed a good size," he said.
"It's close to the city. Come 4pm it's like a car park out there and those windows are like a goldfish bowl, people on buses looking in."
Despite retail coming under increasing pressure from companies that set up online shops with no overheads, Mr Cooper said that was not an option.
He said: "It's very tempting, you've got a far wider audience online, but the sort of stuff we sell is very tactile.
"It's always been a dream to have our own place. It's a dream come true."
Mr Cooper, who sells furniture made from local reclaimed timber and other interior items, welcomes the council initiative.
"With the times we're in financially, anything that anybody can do to try to regenerate the area could help generate more sales."
Councillor Nick McDonald, portfolio holder for jobs, skills and business, is leading the shops plan. He will meet the executive board city centre committee on Tuesday to discuss the proposals. A target has not yet been finalised but Mr McDonald is proposing the number of empty shops should be reduced by one third by September 2013 and two thirds the following September.
He said: "If we could fill some of these units it would send a strong message to the people in the city that we're serious about improving the city centre, we're moving the city out of recession and bucking the national trend."
The council does not own all 199 empty shops, many are owned by private landlords, so the plan will rely on their involvement.
The project is also supported by property consultants FHP.
Ben Tebbutt, director of the company, said: "We think it's a good idea and we're happy to support and do what we can and speak to landlords.
"Some are receptive and will accept it. Others are silent landlords – you can't get hold of them, but I think people see the council is trying to help and that can only be a good thing."
Mr McDonald said they will also be encouraging more pop-up shops to open, where people just let for a short period of time to try new business ventures.
"That could create opportunity for young entrepreneurial fashion designers, young artists, giving them a chance to show their products and give them a chance to have a high-street presence. It's giving them support as well as space, mentoring them and developing a proper business out of it." He said this could work especially well for the Broadmarsh Centre, which has the highest number of empty units (25), largely due to delayed revamp plans.
He said: "We are working with Capital Shopping Centres to help develop their proposals for Broadmarsh. Until it's resolved, at the very earliest it will take five years.
"It will be difficult to get new long-term tenants but perhaps that's an area we can see pop-up shops."
He added that other changes, which have already been put in place, including changes to on-street parking tariffs, will also help bring in shoppers. People can now park on the streets for as long as they like, with new fees in place.
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