High streets across England are due to benefit from a £95m government-funded scheme to help them recover from declining footfall and the impact of Covid-19.
As part of the high streets heritage action zone (HSHAZ) programme, delivered by Historic England, disused and dilapidated buildings will be restored into new homes, shops, workplaces and community spaces in 68 high streets across the country.
Historic England said up to 48% of the nation’s retail stock was built before 1919 and the loss of business occupiers is placing these buildings at risk while “undermining the character, local identity and viability of the high street”.
The culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, said: “High streets sit at the heart of our communities and every part of the country deserves to have one they can be proud of.
“This fund will help breathe new life into high streets in towns and cities across the country – restoring them to their full glory so that they are beautiful places for people to shop, work and enjoy.”
The initiative is funded with £40m from the Department for Digital, Culture Media and Sport and £52m from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, with a further £3m to be provided by the national lottery heritage fund.
It follows the government’s £1.57bn cultural recovery fund, which was launched in August to help support Britain’s arts, culture and heritage industries so that they can “weather the impact of coronavirus and come back even stronger”.
Duncan Wilson, the chief executive of Historic England, said: “Whether it’s a medieval market town, or a post-war city centre, every high street in England has a distinctive history that can be harnessed to help it achieve a prosperous future.
“Investing in heritage delivers good results for people – it means looking after and celebrating the places at the heart of our communities, and the buildings and public spaces which define their character.
“This investment will unlock the potential of these precious high streets and help them thrive again.”
Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show UK retail sales continued their recovery in August but saw growth slow down, while online sales continued to be strong as shoppers chose to stay at home.
The ONS said volumes of retail sales for the month were 4% higher than in February, whereas online sales were 46.8% higher than pre-pandemic levels.