Empty shops in town centres should be converted into galleries or advice centres under government plans to tackle 'ghost town Britain'.

Hazel Blears, communities secretary, announced measures including faster planning procedures, new short-term leases and £3m of funding to make it easier to convert vacant premises. Councils will have powers – through 'special planning application waivers' – to take over premises to turn them into cultural, community or learning centres.

Experian, the market analyst, has forecast that retail vacancy could increase to 15% by the end of the year – or 139,500 empty shops.

Financial Times