Flintshire Council set to take drastic action to bring empty town centre shops back into use
A local authority is preparing to take drastic action to bring empty town centre shops back into use.
Flintshire Council has set out a number of proposals to revive ailing shopping areas in the county, including the use of enforcement powers to tackle long-standing vacant properties.
Officials said blocks of town centre units could be bought up and demolished to be replaced by housing or turned into green space.
Smaller shopping centres could also be purchased by the council to refurbish or redevelop them.
Meanwhile, the authority is looking to develop a community ownership model to enable town centre shops to be used for the benefit of local people.
A report which is set to be presented to members of its ruling Labour cabinet next week shows the projects will be funded through £1.5m worth of repayable funding it has received from the Welsh Government.
In the document, Andrew Farrow, chief officer for economy, said the viability of town centres had been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic.
He said: “Town centres face escalating economic challenges and the current patterns of property ownership hamper attempts to help them to adapt.
“This report acts as the first stage in a process of developing an ambitious but deliverable programme of interventions to support the reinvention and regeneration of town centres in Flintshire.
“There are a number of challenges facing all small towns in the UK.
“Changing customer behaviour, which has accelerated during the Covid pandemic, has dramatically reduced expenditure through high street shops.
“It is not expected that this will return fully to pre-Covid levels, leaving towns with more shops than they can sustain.”
Other issues highlighted in the report include that many units are owned remotely by both national and international property, finance and investment companies.
Mr Farrow said some owners had “little interest” in managing their shops effectively.
He said small shopping centres were also struggling to remain viable due to a collapse in property values and difficulties in attracting tenants.
He added: “Although there is a relatively low proportion of vacant retail units in Flintshire town centres, there is considerable underused space above the ground floor and weak business resilience is believed to mask the true picture which manifests in gradually declining building condition and lack of investment.
“A number of interventions are already underway and it is proposed that this approach is accelerated and the ambition of the council increased in line with the scale of the challenges facing town centres.
“The intention of the programme is to reduce the number of long-term empty properties in town centres.”
The report shows the council may need to use consultants to move some of the schemes forward as it oes enough staff with relevant expertise.
Mr Farrow also warned that some transformation plans may prove unpopular with local residents, but said people would be consulted before any changes move forward.
The proposals will be discussed by cabinet members at a meeting on Tuesday (April 20, 2021).
Liam Randall – Local Democracy Reporter (more here). Spotted something? Got a story? Send a Facebook Message | A direct message on Twitter | Email: News@Deeside.com