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News - 18 April 2009
The old Astoria cinema in York Place

Ghost towns to be avoided at all costs

The Government is outlining emergency measures to prevent ghost towns growing out of the recession. The proposed solution is to create a pot of grant funding for artists to stage exhibitions in empty shop premises.

According to a report in the Guardian Hazel Blears, the communities secretary, and Andy Burnham, the culture secretary, will announce a £3m plan to make thousands of small grants of up to £1,000 to people who find creative reuse for vacant shops.

Planning rules will be relaxed to allow changes of use which go against local guidelines. For example, a shop could become an art gallery or an NHS drop-in centre.

Temporary lease agreements will enable owners who want to retain a vacant property in the long term to make it available for community or creative use during the recession. Councils will be urged to take control of empty properties until the recession ends.

This news follows predictions that vacancy will average 12% across the UK in 2009 and in some places will be as high as 15%.

In Brighton vacancy rates are very much better than the current national average of 9.5% and in some areas notably the Lanes and North Laine are as low as 5%.

However, the council is coming up with creative ideas to keep vacant properties alive and will be working with the Business Forum to make the best use of vacant sites in the city centre.

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