‘If we get this right, we can save the dying high streets’

Reporter: Charlotte Hall, Local Democracy Reporter
Date published: 25 May 2024

Oldham has received a 500k boost to revamp its high streets.

The government grant can be used by councils for ‘attractive changes’ to entice footfall to the town centre. 

The council can spend the money, which comes from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, on ‘adding greenery’ to Union Street and Yorkshire Street.

The grant is part of a wider effort to revive ‘dying’ town centres across England, which have seen a dramatic decline in footfall in the last few years.

It comes on top of a £237k boost as part of the  ‘High Street Accelerators Partnership’. 

Maggie Hughes, who owns Oldham business Zutti Co on Yorkshire Street and chairs the partnership, said: “We are so grateful for this money, which will make Oldham a brighter and more enjoyable place to be in with all the greenery, which is being put into our high streets.” 

Hughes hopes that with the greening and other big projects like the new market venue and food hall, footfall in the town centre will increase and new shops will move into the high street. 

She said: “We now need to bring back the independent retail shops to the high street and bring back the footfall in Oldham that we used to have.”

Councils will soon have the power to introduce rental auctions for empty retail spaces in the town centre.

Meaning from September, they can offer businesses lower rents to bring new businesses into the area. 

Hughes has managed her shop - which stocks school uniforms and menswear - in Oldham for 43 years and has seen the area undergo ‘massive changes’. 

“Twenty years ago Oldham was absolutely thriving with footfall,” she said.

“We had the most amazing outdoor market which brought people in from all areas.

"Busloads of people used to descend on the town centre.

"Every single shop on Yorkshire street was a little individual, independent shop. It was great.

“But when the market started deteriorating, so did the footfall.”

With the new funding and regeneration projects ongoing, the Oldham shopkeeper is hopeful about the town’s future. 

“If we can get this right - and I think we will - we can bring the people back into Oldham.”

The Minister for Levelling Up, Jacob Young, added that the department was ‘determined to keep high streets alive and flourishing’. 

Young said: “Coupled with the new powers we’re giving to councils to rent out persistently empty spaces, our High Street Accelerators programme will make our towns more welcoming and pleasant places for people to enjoy.”

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