British Retail Consortium (BRC) said the government should be doing more to keep high streets ‘productively occupied’ and that temporary uses is not the answer.

In response to communities secretary Hazel Blears’ pledge to provide funding to ‘help communities find creative ways to reduce the negative impact empty shops have on the high street’ the BRC believes that this is not the answer.

The BRC's concerns follow measures by Blears announced today to make it easier for local groups in England to turn stores into galleries or advice centres. Her plans include £3m of funding, faster planning procedures, standard short-term leases and extra powers to allow councils to take over premises.

The BRC said ‘the way to prevent high streets becoming ghost towns is to remove burdens and help retailers survive in them, continuing to provide jobs and services.’

British Retail Consortium director general Stephen Robertson, said: ‘Art displays are not the answer for empty shops. We agree that vacant premises blight town centres. But contriving schemes to fill them with other users is tackling the symptom while ignoring the cause.

‘One of the key causes of retailers’ difficulties is property costs. The Government responded to our lobbying by delaying part of the five per cent business rates increase that was due this month. But the full amount still has to be paid over the next two years and rates revaluation threatens another big increase next April.

‘Rather than offering empty shops for uses that are rates-free, wouldn’t it be better to reduce the rates burden for struggling retailers.’