READING has been given a £100,000 Government boost to help bring empty shops back into use.
The borough council is one of scores benefiting from the £10m High Street Innovation Fund aimed at encouraging local authorities to try initiatives such as offering business rate discounts for new start-ups taking up empty properties, and working with landlords to promote occupancy.
Bracknell and Slough have also each received £100,000 from the fund, which is part of the Government's 'Portas-Plus' package of High Street improvement measures announced by Housing and Local Government Minister Grant Shapps in response to a review of town centres by retail expert Mary Portas.
Reading UK CIC director Tim Smith said: "It was a surprise and quite unexpected because Reading continues to have a very strong retail centre."
However, figures from the Local Data Company found Reading has 104 vacant shops, a rise of 2.25% from 12 months ago, and the money given to the town adds up to £961.54 per shop.
The scheme itself came under attack on Wednesday after the LDC revealed Hertfordshire's Three Rivers District Council is also receiving £100,000 despite having only two empty shops, while Nottingham will get the same amount for its 428 vacant units - just £233 per shop.
In its response to the Portas High Street Review, the Government also intends to create a £1m Future High-Street X-Fund to reward innovative improvements to high streets; create a National Markets Day to launch a National Markets Fortnight; and an additional round of 12 more 'Portas Pilot' towns, which will be given extra funding to implement imaginative ideas to boost trade.
Meanwhile, Reading and Woodley are due to hear next month if they have been chosen as two of 12 'Portas Pilot' towns to trial ideas to boost trade.
It has not yet been revealed which areas of Reading will benefit from this if the bid is successful, but The Meadway in Tilehurst has been named as a frontrunner.
Broad Street Mall centre manager Steve Fawke said: "In recent months, we have seen an increase in retail void rates in Reading, so I think this is excellent news.
"Anything that can help us boost retail in the town is a plus for everybody."