D-day for towns bidding for Portas Pilots funding

Today is the final day for towns to apply for a share of a �1m fund set by retail guru Mary Portas as the government pledged to do more to help the country's ailing high streets, including setting up a �10m High Street Innovation Fund.

Housing minister Grant Shapps announced a 'Portas Plus' plan to revive town centres, as the government accepted the 28 recommendations made by Ms Portas in a review of high streets commissioned by Prime Minister David Cameron, which set out planning changes to aid town centres, free parking and annual market days.

Cash from the fund would be used to return empty shops to use, with money being awarded to locations delivering the most creative and effective revitalisation projects, and a National Markets Day to encourage entrepreneurs. A �500,000 fund for Business Improvement Districts will also be set up to help town centres access loans.

Towns across Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire are vying for up to �100,000 from the Portas Pilots scheme, including North Walsham, Aylsham, Thetford, Wisbech, Great Yarmouth, Halesworth, Lowestoft and Southwold.

And four towns from Norfolk and Suffolk- Brandon, Halesworth, Hunstanton and Ipswich- received an extra boost on Thursday when the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), which supports businesses, announced it would be endorsing their Portas bids.

LEP board member Davina Tanner said: 'We are delighted to have received 17 submissions from towns across the LEP area. It shows a real enthusiasm and energy within New Anglia for the themes of regeneration identified in the Portas report.

'We have chosen to endorse the submissions from Brandon, Halesworth, Hunstanton and Ipswich as those which best match the criteria and commitment outlined by Mary Portas.

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Town teams of retailers, traders and councillors have been formed in each of the candidate towns to devise innovative ideas to regenerate their high streets. If selected as one of the 12 successful Portas Pilots towns, the funding would be used to put these ideas into practice.

However, one Norfolk town is looking to buck the trend by aiming for slightly less funding and use the publicity generated from being involved with the Portas Pilots scheme to increase interest in the town and generate funding for town centre improvements.

The Town Team in Diss is aiming to be known as 'The town that bid for �1,' and hopes to be selected as a 13th Pilot town, using the publicity generated from a high profile visit from Ms Portas to hand over the money to attract more visitors.

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