Plans to bring empty town centre units back into use have taken a positive step forward as the council has announced plans to offer 0% loans to owners and potential owners of vacant units in Southend High Street.
Funded through the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP) Local Growth Fund, businesses and landlords of vacant units can apply for loans between £1,000 and £50,000.
The loans are repayable over either 24 months (£1,000 – £10,000 loans) or 36 months (£10,000+ loans) with repayments made in monthly instalments. The outstanding loan amount can be paid in full at any time without penalty. Loans applications are available from today (Thursday 18 March) and live until Friday 30 July.
This initiative is running in parallel with a shop front grant scheme to reinvigorate the Town Centre.
For new businesses looking to occupy a vacant property, the loan must be matched by a 20% contribution from the loan applicant.
For landlords and property owners, the loan must be matched by a 50% contribution from the loan applicant.
Loans will be paid in two parts; the first 50% of the agreed loan amount will be paid on commencement of the works, subject to an approved planning application, and the remaining 50% will be paid on completion of the works following a council inspection.
The loans are available to businesses located on Southend High Street, with a map on the website detailing the eligible areas, and can be used to cover a variety of works, including:
- Frontage improvements
- Accessibility improvements
- Interior refurbishment and decoration
- Furniture and equipment
- Security systems
- External/internal lighting
- Fixed display stands and shelving
Overheads Costs must be no more than to 50% of the total loan value. Contributions to overhead costs may include:
- Rent and business rates
- Utility costs
- Staff training
- Upper floor (if returning to residential properties)
Cllr Kevin Robinson, cabinet member for business, culture and tourism, said:
“In 2019, the council set up a town centre scrutiny project – ‘Reimagining the town centre’ – which enabled us to work collaboratively with partners to prepare short, medium and long-term actions to enhance our main town centre district.
“These loans can provide support for various shop owners’ and business owners’ needs. They could enable start-ups to renovate their newly acquired units or could help part-fund the renovation of a larger unit into a few smaller units. We are open to any ideas the owners may have, subject to the works fitting the criteria for the application forms.
“We had hoped to launch this scheme early last year, but unfortunately the pandemic took over and so we had to put the project on hold. I urge anyone who owns a unit in the High Street to get in touch and check if you are eligible for a 0% loan.”
Cllr Ron Woodley, cabinet member for transport, capital and inward investment, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity, not only for current business owners, but also those looking to start up. We are aware there are a number of vacant units in the High Street, and I would love nothing more than to see local Southend entrepreneurs take up this offer and reinvigorate the town centre.”
Suzanne Gloyne, Southend Business Improvement District manager, said:
“We are really pleased to be supporting the council on this project which will go a long way in helping our High Street to thrive again. This initiative will help us encourage new businesses to take on vacant premises that have become an inevitable consequence of the last year in our town, and will help Southend rebuild and bounce back stronger again.”
Christian Brodie, South East LEP Chair, said:
“This scheme was in the planning before the pandemic but following the year retailers and town centres have experienced, this initiative is even more welcome today.
“We are delighted to help in providing these loans and kick start investment into the town centre. Retail has been one of the hardest hit sectors and re-imaging the role of these vacant units and bringing customers back into the town centres is really important at a time when people are living and working in closer proximity, we all need to invest in our local resources and support local business.”
The 0% loan scheme and the shop front grant scheme are part of a major investment into Southend town centre funded by SELEP.
For more information regarding the 0% loan scheme, including where to find the application form, please visit www.southend.gov.uk/tcip