The leader of Hyndburn Council has urged traders to do their bit to turn around the fortunes of Accrington town centre.
Miles Parkinson made the plea following the publication of a new report saying they are not doing enough. The council report said that the private sector is ‘not proportionally matching public sector investment’ after nearly £22 million was ploughed into renovations to the market, town hall, train station and the creation of a new bus station and town hall square.
It comes as it was revealed that not one single shop owner had come forward to offer up their own cash and claim Government grants to restore shop fronts and reinstate historical features.
Some shop owners claim this could amount to between £7,000 and £50,000 – depending on the size of their building and shop front – and that most businesses ‘just can’t afford it’.
The report says that the public sector has invested in various town centre projects over recent years, including the new bus station, town square, town hall, bus station and market hall improvements, and council leader Miles Parkinson said it was ‘critical’ for the private sector to now play its part.
He said: “We have come up to the mark and spent on the public buildings and public realm and got that inward investment.
“We would like them to come forward and engage with us because we do have a vision to move the town centre forward.”
Funding has been awarded by the Townscape Heritage Initiative scheme to install period shop fronts and windows and to reinstate lost architectural and historic features on buildings along Blackburn Road in Accrington, close to the new Pals square.
Shops were initially asked to pay between 20 and 30 per cent towards the cost of the work, but this could now be dropped to 10 per cent following a shortage of take up.
Councillor Terry Hurn, deputy leader of the council’s Conservative group, said it was a ‘big ask’ for businesses to invest large sums in their buildings when the confidence level in Accrington town centre is ‘not high’.
He said: “It was a bit surprising that no-one was on the uptake but on the other hand you’ve got to look at an ailing town centre and to invest so much money into a property. I know the properties will be worth a lot more but it’s a big ask of people to put £10,000 to £50,000 up front when we really want some confidence that this town centre is going to work.
“Most of the properties are small independents and that’s the problem. The confidence level in Accrington town centre is not high at the moment and that needs addressing and whatever is being built is going to help them considerably.”
Owners ‘cannot afford up to £50,000 to pay for work’
Business owners on Blackburn Road said they ‘can’t afford’ to pay thousands of pounds towards the shop front scheme and that a 30pc contribution fee is ‘not viable’.
Hyndburn Chamber of Trade president Shahed Mahmood, who runs the Home Run takeaway on the street, said some businesses could be faced with a £50,000 bill to improve the whole of their properties and that they ‘haven’t got the money’.
Shahed said his takeaway is looking to apply for the scheme but it is ‘dependent on the size of the grant’.
He told the Observer: “The small retailers are looking at the cost of the total building project. They are saying to them ‘if you do the building in this condition we will give you 70pc’.
“The shopkeepers are looking at it and thinking ‘I don’t need to get upstairs windows replaced or any of the extra work so conditions are met’. That’s where the extra cost is.
“They are thinking 70pc to a grant of £25,000 or £30,000 is still leaving us with a £7,500 or £8,000 contribution whereas I could go privately and spend maybe £2,500 and get it done. Some buildings will cost £150,000 and the owners will have to pay £45,000 to 50,000. It’s not viable.
“Looking at the state of the economy over the last few years it hasn’t helped the small retailers. There are some that would like to get it done but just can’t afford it.
“There is interest but the cost is rather prohibitive, spending 30pc getting the whole shop front done which they don’t need to. That’s why they are saying that they can’t afford it.”
Council leader Miles Parkinson said: “We can make nice public realm squares and make the pavements better and invest in the town hall, but we do need those businesses to come forward and take the opportunity of these grants.
“By doing that and improving their properties they will get a better retail market and more footfall because people are drawn to buildings which are functional and well presented. They walk away from those which are not in their finest glory or in need of a lick of paint.”
However, despite ‘close liaison’ with property owners over the last two years and 15 out of 30 expressing an interest, the council say ‘disappointingly’ no grants have been accepted.
Coun Parkinson said the THI shop front funding will be prioritised for buildings facing the Market Hall and Town Hall before others along Blackburn Road are considered.
He said: “It all depends how far the THI grants go. If certain businesses come forward and say we are happy with our shop fronts and don’t want to do that then no-one can force them to do it. We would like them to do it in the key areas.
“By bringing back that street scene it makes it attractive to the general public to go along and for retailers to sell their wares.
“It’s important that they do all engage, we want them all to engage and we would want to sell it to them.
“No-one can force them to do it but if you are getting a grant of 70-80pc, and we will try and get it higher, we would hope they all engage.
“There are some buildings which have been bought by speculators and they are more difficult because they just sit on the building in that key area. We are doing our utmost to engage with them.”