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Councils urged to open up empty shops to local entrepreneurs

Councils must "act now" to safeguard the future of their high streets by setting aside a percentage of empty shops for small local businesses.

PopUp Britain, the retail arm of national enterprise campaign StartUp Britain, made the call after research from PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Local Data Company showed that chain retailers closed an average of 20 stores a day across the UK's 500 biggest town centres in 2012.

The report added that based on analysis of closures between December and February, the rate of closures could have climbed to 28 a day at the turn of the year.

The hardest hit chains included those selling clothes, computer games, jewellery and sporting goods. There were also a decline in the number of bank branches, recruitment agencies and travel agencies.

However, there an increase in the number of pound shops, pawnbrokers, charity shops, betting shops, cheque cashing and payday loan outlets, supermarkets and coffee shops.

Emma Jones, co-founder of StartUp Britain and the small business representative on the Government's Future High Street Forum, said, "Local authorities need to act now to stop our high streets being taken over by betting shops, cash converters and pound shops. The long-view of this unnerving development can only lead to further disengagement for British shoppers.

"We propose councils safeguard the future health of their own town centres by making provision for local businesses to get access to the high street via low-cost options like pop-up shops. This way they will be encouraging and nurturing the high street entrepreneurs of the future, and bringing hope to the local economy."

Nick Russell, co-founder of We Are Pop Up, added, "It's very clear that the large retailers that previously populated the high street are leaving - and they are not going to come back.

"Even healthy chains are starting to proactively close stores. As those retailers leave, there are three scenarios: those shops can lie empty and contribute to increased blight and crime; predatory businesses like payday lenders and betting shops can move in; or we can empower the hundreds of thousands of SMEs that are ready to kick off a new wave of UK retail.

"These are real businesses, profitably trading online. Far from the last, worst option, at We Are Pop Up, we are seeing tremendous innovation and very exciting propositions. These businesses are our first, best option."

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