Planning permission has been granted to let empty shopping centre units to food, drink and leisure operators in a bid to increase footfall at an ailing Northampton shopping centre.
Bosses at Market Walk applied to Northampton Borough Council to lift the protection given to its retail outlets so it could fill half-a-dozen units that have been empty for up to six years with cafes, bars and restaurants, as well as offices for professional and financial services.
Now planners Colliers International have secured permission for the "flexible use" of vacant units there, which they hope will "refocus" the offer at the shopping centre.
Market Walk, formerly Peacock Place, had been struggling following the recession and the loss of tenants including Next and Laura Ashley, Collier International confirmed.
Senior planning consultant at Colliers International Alison Mackay said: “Market Walk Shopping Centre has been significantly impacted by competition in recent years. Colliers International was able to demonstrate that a more flexible approach to use of the centre was beneficial, despite strict planning policies protecting standard retail uses.
"This increased flexibility will revitalise the shopping centre and complement the wider strategy for regeneration of Northampton town centre, not least by widening the leisure offer available around the Market Square.”
The new flexible planning permission allows vacant units to also be occupied by professional services, food and beverage operators.
Commercial director at Bursha Holdings, which owns Market Walk, Jack Paravicini said: “We’re absolutely thrilled to have secured permission for a greater range of uses at Market Walk Shopping Centre. Many retailers have struggled over the past few years and this is a fantastic opportunity to breathe new life into the heart of Northampton.
"We’re confident that, in repositioning Market Walk, we’re able to contribute to the continued revival of this historic market town and help to support a thriving town centre.”
Councillor Tim Hadland, the cabinet member for regeneration, enterprise and planning, said: “We know from the footfall figures and the number of people taking advantage of our free parking offer that our town centre is popular with visitors. However, the way people shop is changing and we must reflect that in our approach to supporting the town centre economy.
“Visitors are looking for more than simply a retail offer, which is part of the reason why the scheme we’ve chosen for Greyfriars includes leisure and dining facilities.
“Flexibility for Market Walk could help further improve diversity in our town centre offer and we await future announcements on UGS’s plans with anticipation.
“We welcome efforts from businesses of all shapes and sizes who want to invest in our town and have ideas about how to encourage people to spend time here.”