BLACKBURN business bosses have welcomed borough plans to give creative new and small businesses tak-ing up empty shops in the town centre a year free of rates.

Borough finance chief Andy Kay launched a three- week consultation for the ground-breaking scheme on Monday night, as part of the ‘Blackburn is Open’ initiative.

Addressing a meeting of Blackburn and Darwen’s company bosses and trad-ers, he said eligible enterp-rises taking an empty shop unit in Blackburn town centre would be able to get a discount of up to 100per cent on their business rates from April 1.

Chamber of Trade boss Tony Duckworth said it was a good idea, provided it was part of a wider package.

Rafik Adam, chief executive of Enterprise4All, welcomed the move, but said it had to cover young people starting up firms in the digital and web-based industries.

Coun Kay said the ‘Business Rates Incentive’ would see new, or expanding, businesses in the town centre benefitting from the discount for 12 months.

He revealed that the designated area for the scheme would cover Sudell Cross, Blakey Moor, Northgate and King William Street, with a higher-than-average concentration of empty, mainly retail, properties.

This proposed local scheme will operate alongside any other rate reliefs on offer. Only vacant propert-ies within the designated zone, with rates bills of up to £10,000, will be eligible.

The council has occupied three properties so far with its pop-up cinema, the ‘Blackburn is Open’ shop, and rehoming the Rebound bookshop.

Coun Kay said: “The Council is determined to build a vibrant, creative community in the town centre and fill the empty shops in the town centre.

“The proposed discount on business rates is aimed at giving these new and exciting businesses a helping hand during their first year.

“We are looking at arts, crafts and creative entrepreneurs, especially the young. That will include the new digital and web-based sectors.

“We want our bright and creative young people to stay in the borough.”

Views can be given by email to regeneration@ or in writing to Julia Simpson, Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council, at the Old Town Hall, Blackburn.

The deadline is Friday, February 21.