Withington and Swinton are among 14 towns across the country that will be able to access early assistance as part of the scheme, but the help will be in the form of ‘soft’ support rather than any direct funding. This will afford access to a range of experts and services, in areas such as design and town planning, to online training for staff, and local footfall data mining to help town’s better understand customer shopping habits.
Robert Downes, FSB Development Manager in Greater Manchester, said: “While this is good news for both towns, we mustn’t get too carried away as there’s no massive cash injection on the cards.
“This is more about learning how smaller scale changes can have a positive impact on towns, baby steps rather than giant leaps. This is also about learning, what works, what doesn’t, and the results will hopefully pave the way for other struggling high streets to make similar changes. It’ll be really important for councils to take note of the findings when we have them, and act accordingly.”
This latest project is not to be confused with phase one of the £1 billion Future High Streets Fund, announced last summer, which will see 100 towns across the country in with a chance to scoop up to £25million each to redefine their high streets. Successful bids can use funding to improve transport and access into town centres, convert empty retail units into new homes and workplaces, and invest in congestion relieving infrastructure.
Several towns in Greater Manchester are among the 100 towns centres to make the final shortlist, although none has yet published further details of their bid submissions.
Added Downes: “High streets across Greater Manchester are having a tough time, and we would like to see more councils here look at free or discounted car parking initiatives to make town centres more appealing for shoppers. These kinds of measures are councils’ gifts to give, and can be implemented relatively quickly, whereas any benefits from the High Street Fund projects are some way off fruition.
“High streets really need some help in the ‘here and now’, and with town halls in budget setting mode now’s the time for them to look at what can be done in the short term.”
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