Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Shops offered cash to spruce up buildings for visitors

TRADERS in Henley will be able to apply for grants to make their shop fronts more attractive.

TRADERS in Henley will be able to apply for grants to make their shop fronts more attractive.

A pilot scheme to be launched next month will enable businesses and landlords to refurbish or repair building facades.

Henley Town Council and South Oxfordshire District Council have both set aside £5,000 to fund the year-long trial.

Town centre manager Peter McConnell, who devised the scheme, said the aim was to improve the vitality and visitor appeal of the town centre.

He said: “This will assist shop landlords to improve facades in the most visible and visited parts of the town.

“Visitors and shoppers are known to linger for longer if the high street is more attractive and that means they spend more money. They are also more likely to return. Residents, too, benefit from an improved shopping environment.

“This raises the profile of the town among potential visitors in the same way as a gold medal in Britain in Bloom. If we make the town look attractive with floral displays, we can equally do that with the buildings and shop fronts. It is also helps attract other businesses and shops. In the current economic environment, that’s very important.”

Similar schemes exist in many other towns, including Thame where 20 shops have received grants. Mr McConnell said: “It has been proven to work elsewhere and I’m convinced it will work for us.

“Henley has a huge number of buildings of great historic importance, especially in the shopping area. The town council has a civic responsibility to encourage landlords and shopkeepers to preserve and enhance their shop fronts.

“Equally, a scheme like this allows us some influence on some shops and businesses and that’s a power we would welcome.”

Businesses can apply for grants of up to £2,000 each and have to contribute at least half of the total cost of any work. Mr McConnell expects most grants to be between £500 and £750.

Grants would be awarded for work such as:

lA new shop front.

lRepair, replacement, reinstatement of original architectural features.

lRepainting the facade in suitable colours.

lRepair of gutters.

A committee will meet once a month to consider applications. It consists of Mr McConnell, Councillor Dieter Hinke, who chairs the town council’s planning committee, Councillor Kellie Gehrmann, who chairs the Henley in Bloom committee, and Peter Brampton, a district council planning officer.

Mr McConnell said he had already been contacted by shops including the Bell Bookshop and Henley Sports in Greys Road showing interest.

He said: “Henley will be seen to offer a tangible incentive and benefit to town centre businesses. The town council will be supporting independent businesses, which are a key factor of the town as a destination.

“This first year is to see if it works and whether there are a lot of retailers interested. I would like to see it as an annual programme but only if it’s proven to work.”

Councillor Pam Phillips, who chairs the town and community committee, said: “There’s a civic responsibility incumbent on the town council to make the high street look as attractive as it possibly can.

“We’re in a competitive environment. A lot of shoppers from Henley go to Marlow because they think it looks nicer and it’s a better place to be. Shoppers from other other parts of the region go to other towns. We have to do our utmost to attract businesses in which people will spend money.”

Councillor Joan Bland, who owns Asquiths teddy bear shop in New Street, said she would welcome funding to renovate her store, which is in a 600-year-old building.

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