Our high streets are turning into ghost towns but Mayoral candidate sets out her fight to save them. Jessie Joe Jacobs is today launching her ambitious plans to revive struggling high streets across Tees Valley and deal with the empty shop scourge that is blighting our town centres. In her fight to save our high streets, Jessie has pledged to set up a High Street Innovation Fund if elected as Mayor of Tees Valley. The initiative will be a catalyst for innovative ideas to spark new life into the high street. £1.5m from the Combined Authority’s budget will be set aside for local businesses and start-ups to fund their ideas for the hundreds of empty buildings that blight our high streets across the region. The fund will be led and held by high street stakeholders, local businesses and communities.Figures show that shops are closing at a worrying rate across Tees Valley with Debenhams and New Look recently closing their Stockton stores, creating worry and uncertainty among retailers and shoppers about the future of the high street. The North East suffers from the highest rates of empty shops throughout the whole country with 16% of shops across our high streets empty. This compares to just 9% in Greater London. Jessie Joe Jacobs, Labour’s candidate for Tees Valley Mayor, said: “I grew up in a family who worked three generations on Stockton market, Jacobs hardware and leather, who eventually moved into carpets. I know that small businesses are the lifeblood of our town centres. It has been devastating to see the decline. For the last ten years I have worked on regeneration projects, sat on town centre teams, championed independent businesses, learned from other areas around the UK and Europe, and I know the high street can be saved. “My Innovation Fund will kick start new ideas for the high street by giving innovators and entrepreneurs the funding and support they need to start new ventures and projects in our struggling town centres. Like this boxing club that we are launching my fund from, it has transformed this empty shop unit. I want to see many more ideas like this bringing new life to these empty buildings.
“I have listened to many stakeholders and businesses, who all agree, we need to change our strategy for high streets. We must focus on bringing in more independent businesses and community ventures to take our town centres in a new direction, alongside opening up buildings for residential and leisure. ” “We need to tackle the systemic issues such as the red tape and high costs that stifles innovation. And most importantly, this work needs to be led by the businesses, communities and key stakeholders of the high street, themselves. It is about unlocking their ideas and ambitions that will see our town centres transformed” Jessie’s strategy to transform our town centres will see her set up a High Street Task Force, if elected this May. The Task Force will include a dedicated High Street Tsar, to spearhead the transformation and support local authorities to share best practice and work closer together across the five boroughs of the Tees Valley. She will also set up a Business and Community Led Advisory Group to guide the work of the Task Force and hold her and the Combined Authority to account on delivering change.