A LOCAL authority has been urged to help turn around the fortunes of its best known high street by offering empty premises at a very low cost to people who have lost their jobs due to Covid-19.

Business consultant David Cooper said he had been shocked by the decline of Northallerton High Street, saying it had been “a joy” in the 1990s, but over the last couple of years “it had decayed so much” it was “becoming an eyesore with so many empty shops”.

Among the empty premises is the prominent and large former post office, which closed last year.

In a letter to the Hambleton District Council’s leader, Councillor Mark Robson, Mr Cooper, a former utility firm manager, said a fresh approach was needed to address the situation in the county town. Mr Cooper, of Topcliffe, near Thirsk, urged Cllr Robson to call a meeting of landlords of empty shops to suggest they let their premises “to people who have lost their jobs and will not find a new job easily after Covid19”.

He added: “Amongst those people there will be some entrepreneurs who could open up a business, pay no rates for at least the first year and pay a very small rent to begin with. At the end of each quarter the landlord and tenant would get together and agree an enhanced rent for the next quarter assuming that the business has been successful in creating income. If not, after six months the tenant would have to leave to allow some other person the opportunity.”

He said it was apparent that the council needed to focus on a fresh, bespoke solution for Northallerton, saying towns such as nearby Thirsk did not suffer from an empty premises problem.

While it is understood there are more than a dozen empty premises on Northallerton High Street, the business consultant’s call comes 15 months after an inquiry by the council found Northallerton had less empty premises than elsewhere in the district. At the time it said 6.9 per cent of premises in Northallerton were vacant, while Stokesley had 9.6 per cent, Thirsk 10 per cent, Easingwold 10.8 per cent and Bedale 11.6 per cent.

Speaking after the inquiry, Councillor David Hugill said: “The thing that really frustrates residents and shoppers is to see empty shops and that is something we are working hard to make sure doesn’t happen. Northallerton and our other market towns have less empty shops than would be the average, but we still really feel it could be better.”

When asked about Mr Cooper’s comments, Cllr Robson said the authority was working very closely with businesses and landlords.

He said: “Through our Vibrant Market Towns Strategy we have exciting plans for our county town – work on improving Zetland Street and some of the town’s ginnels is already underway and the Treadmills development is taking shape which will transform the former prison site into a retail, leisure and business centre.

“On top of that we are awaiting the outcome of a bid for Future High Streets funding. All this work will complement the existing businesses as part of our drive to bring more people into Northallerton.”