KEIGHLEY has been chosen for a pioneering initiative which is set to create new jobs and slash the number of empty shops.

The town is among just 29 across the UK selected for the first wave of the Business in the Community (BITC) scheme.

A partnership of some of the country's leading high street names will help Keighley businesses work on an action plan of improvements.

Boots, the Co-operative Group, Marks & Spencer and Santander are the founding members of the 'Healthy High Streets' venture.

Nationally the aim is to create 3,000 jobs, increase footfall by 10 per cent and reduce empty property units by a fifth over a three-year period.

In total, just 100 towns will be involved.

"We submitted our application in May and were absolutely delighted to be chosen," said Keighley town centre manager, Philip Smith.

"To have nationally-recognised businesses pooling their considerable resources and expertise to look at how they can help improve what Keighley provides is a fantastic opportunity.

"We have 200 members within Keighley Town Centre Association who work closely together, and to have large businesses giving their input from a different angle can only be a good thing.

"It's the first time the big businesses have got their heads together in this way to look at what they might be able to do with their combined expertise.

"This is a very exciting time for the town."

Mr Smith said initial discussions had already taken place and more talks are ongoing.

An action plan will then be drawn-up and options considered.

"This can only benefit the association and add an extra tier to what we are able to do," added Mr Smith.

"And it's not just about retailers, it also covers the commercial sector, and the BITC will be working at getting other nationals on board.

"Although it is an initial three-year scheme, once plans are in place the benefits will continue."

The BITC is being supported in the campaign by the Department of Community and Local Governments, Future High Streets Forum and the Prince’s Foundation for Building in the Community.

Mr Smith said a bid was also currently being put together to enter Cavendish Street in a High Street of the Year awards scheme, which would help promote the street and put it in line for a share of £50,000 in prize money and support from the Future High Streets Forum sponsors.