PUBLISHED: 15:57 12 March 2009 | UPDATED: 10:32 23 August 2010
MORE than 40 business premises in the town centre stand vacant with the flagship Heritage Quarter one of the biggest victims of the credit crunch, writes Ed Riley. As experts warn high streets risk becoming ghost towns with empty properties rising rapi
MORE than 40 business premises in the town centre stand vacant with the flagship Heritage Quarter one of the biggest victims of the credit crunch, writes Ed Riley.
As experts warn high streets risk becoming 'ghost towns' with empty properties rising rapidly, the Reporter reveals the true suffering of Gravesend's business community.
Empty units include FOURTEEN in the High Street, part of the Heritage Quarter. Scores of shops in surrounding roads are vacant, with six empty in St George's shopping centre and a further four in the Thamesgate Centre.
Many have closed in the last six months due to the economic downturn; others have been abandoned more than a year ago.
Simon Hookway, the Economic Development Manager at Gravesham Borough Council, said: "It has been the lower part of the High Street that has had the most vacancies. Low footfall has been a longstanding concern and is unlikely to be fully resolved without additional investment in that part of the town.
"The normal number of vacancies at this time of year is about 12 per cent, but that has risen over the last two months to 14 per cent.
"The January to March quarter of the year tends to have the highest level of vacancies, following a pre-Christmas peak, but it is of course of great concern that the recession has made things more difficult."
The Local Government Association (LGA) announced plans last week that said councils should be given new powers allowing them to use vacant premises for community facilities like additional libraries and youth clubs.
LGA chairman, Margaret Eaton said: "Rows of boarded up shops are a sad reflection of the recession the country is mired in. They also become a hotspot for anti-social behaviour and drag down the whole feel of an area.
"Decisive action must be taken to stop our high streets turning into ghost towns."
The proposals include giving councils the power to take over management of properties that have been vacant for more than three months, cutting VAT from 15 per cent to five per cent on the refurbishment of empty shops and to offer breaks on rates to struggling small businesses."
Mr Hookway added: "In talking with landlords we have found that they are willing to be flexible in respect of rents and welcome ideas for alternative uses, especially where a use that is attractive and good quality, increases footfall within the town as a whole."