The Government’s measures to utilise empty shops for community projects in an attempt to revive the high street have been branded a "last resort" by the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS).

ACS chief executive James Lowman said that while the measures detailed in the Looking after our Town Centres guide were creative, there is no substitute for supporting viable sustainable businesses.

“Top priority should be addressing the burden of business rates," he said. "A good first step was to phase this year’s increase but it is next year’s increase that presents the biggest risk to retailers. Thriving local shops play a vital social role and helping them flourish is one of the best things government could do for communities.”

The measures announced by the Government include special planning application waivers, standard interim-use leases and temporarily leasing shops to councils. The Government has also pledged £3m to help communities find creative ways to reduce the negative impact of empty shops.

Announcing the measures, communities secretary Hazel Blears suggested that empty shops could be used as art showrooms or information centres.

“Town centres are the heartbeat of every community and businesses are the foundation so it is vital that they remain vibrant places for people to meet and shop throughout the downturn," she said.

“Empty shops can be eyesores or crime magnets. Our ideas for reviving town centres will give communities the know how to temporarily transform vacant premises into something innovative for the community – a social enterprise, a showroom for local artists or an information centre – and stop the high street being boarded up.”

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