THE Cathedral Quarter is the keystone of a radical 12-point plan for redeveloping Blackburn town centre which has already seen 15 empty retail properties occupied.

When the blueprint was announced in November, 20 per cent of shops – 96 retail units – in the central retail area were vacant, rising to 27 per cent in Sudell Cross/Northgate.

Now town hall chiefs have revealed vacancy rates have fallen by more than 15 per cent as new tenants take advantage of discount rents, rate reductions and free council car parks after 3pm and at weekends.

The radical plans aim to bolster the main £33million development with new restaurants and small independent shops opening late and a new night-time economy of eating, drinking and entertainment.

Proposals includes five new restaurants and better vehicle access to the central area and ‘Blackburn is Open’ creative initiative while business leaders have set a ‘Business Improvement District’, using firms’ cash to boost the retail hub with promotion and environmental improvements.

The council is looking for new entertainment/restaurant uses for the former Bentley’s pub and the old Corn Exchange/Apollo cinema near the town hall as part of a revival of this historic area.

Cutting rents for empty borough properties and reducing business rates in run-down districts has already produced results.

The borough alone has let 15 shops including three in Town Hall Street, six in King William Street and two in Sudell Cross, with ‘To Let’ signs going up on privately-owned vacant units.

Other proposals include a jump-on/jump-off town centre circular bus, and a rejig of Blackburn’s completed orbital road and one-way system linking in the Wainwright Bridge.

Responses to a consultation urged improving car access to King George’s Hall, the Cathedral and shopping area along King Street and Northgate, with decisions expected by December.

Bars are staging ‘Friday Night Live’ weekly music acts and student nights to stimulate a late-evening ‘buzz’.

A programme of top music acts at King George’s Hall is under way with monthly Club Tropicana and Utopia nightclub reunions.

Blakey’s Bar is also open to the public on Friday and Saturday nights.

Monthly town centre ‘First Thursday’ events are on track, headlined by four major occasions including this month’s Beat and September’s Heritage Festivals.

The Central Library opens on Sunday, with stronger promotion of Blackburn museum and its collections.

Council bosses hope to complete the town centre transformation before the £20 million upgrade of Blackburn, Darwen, Clitheroe and Manchester rail line brings all day half-hourly services in December 2016, improving city and commuter links.