REVITALISING Keighley’s town centre is high on the agenda for politicians and business bosses.

Bringing empty retail units back into use and tackling the town’s notorious traffic problems are among priorities.

Calls are being made for more investment in the town to help tackle its problems.

Difficulties faced by the high street retail sector, mirrored nationally, have had their impact locally.

Currently, more than 15 premises around the centre of Keighley are unoccupied.

Big names lost in recent years have included Marks & Spencer – its former Low Street store still stands empty.

Newly-elected Keighley MP, Robbie Moore, has acknowledged the need for the town centre to be rejuvenated so it can be “a place residents and businesses can be proud of”. And he has pledged to work with businesses and organisations to bring empty shops back into use.

Paul Howard – manager of Keighley Business Improvement District – admits the situation is “a challenge”, but he stresses the issues are not unique to the town and that there are plenty of positives.

He said: “While some of the vacant units are sizeable – and familiar names such as M&S have gone – the vacancy rate across the town centre has actually dropped since 2015, from 12.5 per cent to just under ten per cent. The national average is about ten-and-a-half per cent.

“Yes, some retail sectors are struggling because of online shopping and it is still hard work on the high street, but other things are moving in.”

He cites the example of micro pub and gin bar, The Hop On Worth, which opened in Cavendish Street just before Christmas and is proving hugely popular.

And another micro pub could soon open in the same street. A planning application to convert the former 2nd Time Around premises has been submitted to Bradford Council.

“More interest is being generated in the nighttime economy – which is good,” said Mr Howard.

“Things are happening – people are willing to give it a go.”

Another business, property firm Plush, is also opening premises in the town centre – its North Street office opens next week.

Mr Howard added that the latest Keighley Independents Campaign, in the run-up to Christmas, had been a huge success – with more businesses taking part and increased numbers of entries.

The initiative, which gives shoppers the chance to win vouchers, promotes the town centre’s independent businesses and encourages people to use them.

Unit vacancy rates in the Airedale Shopping Centre are just above the national average, but centre manager Steve Seymour says the position has improved during his decade at the helm and he is positive about the outlook.

“When I came we had a 13 per cent vacancy rate – as at the end of last year it stood at 11 per cent,” he said.

“We hope to be able to announce two or three new lettings in the next quarter. They are still to be completed, but they would be new tenants to the town.

“That would take us back to a ten per cent vacancy rate.

“While we are just above the national average at the moment, the rate stands at 15/16 per cent or more in some towns and cities. When you look at the national perspective, Keighley isn’t as bad as some portray.

“And I’m really pleased with the potential.”

He added: “I am hoping 2020 will be a good year for the Airedale Centre.

“Traders reported strong sales in the Christmas period, and Next for example had a particularly good new year. Generally even the smaller units reported having a good Christmas.”

Mr Seymour says the town does have its issues – and that local authority investment is required.

“The council needs to continue the work in Low Street to improve footpaths and the street scene and if some money can be put into helping to bring in new tenants, all well and good,” he said.

“We do also need to look at traffic management – that hasn’t been addressed since the idea of a one-way system in the town centre was abandoned. Dealing with that is a priority. Everyone needs to work together to improve the situation so that people can get in and out of the town.”

He says it is essential that the traffic issues are tackled ahead of development of the East Parade site.

Supermarket giant Aldi is planning to build a new store on the long-disused plot, to replace its present Gresley Road premises. It’s envisaged that other retailers will also occupy units alongside.

Mr Seymour is sceptical about ambitious plans, which went before West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s transport committee last Friday, to remove large amounts of traffic from Cavendish Street. It is suggested the street could even be completely pedestrianised.

“I do not think the idea of a complete pedestrianisation of Cavendish Street is practical,” said Mr Seymour.

“Partial pedestrianisation may work – it would need to be a small section and it would have to be time-sensitive for access reasons.”

Bradford Council says millions of pounds will be invested in Keighley – and Shipley – over the next few years if a bid for funding is successful.

The council’s executive has pledged to spend £324,000 to help draw-up plans to access a £25 million grant from the Government’s Towns Fund.

The council money will match a Government grant to help the local authority develop regeneration and employment schemes.

Over 100 towns and cities across the UK are being given cash through the Towns Fund scheme to carry out “innovative regeneration plans”.

Councillor Alex Ross-Shaw – Bradford Council’s executive member for regeneration, planning and transport – told the Keighley News: "Communities, businesses and local leaders will use this money to join forces and draw-up ambitious plans to transform Keighley’s economic growth prospects – potentially unlocking millions in additional funding.

"The Government, through the announcement of the Towns Fund, has acknowledged that this is a national issue – the UK economy is not working well enough for towns like Keighley. We share that concern."

He said the council was key in supporting the setting-up of Keighley Business Improvement District and launched the District Growth Fund, which provides rate relief to businesses taking space for new ventures. Applications can be made until March 31 at

Cllr Ross-Shaw added: "Progress continues on a number of other opportunities where we are working to facilitate new developments. Our demolition of the former college building will make way for a new policing hub, a study on two business development zones within Keighley has recently been completed to guide land use for business over the next five years, Network Rail is proposing significant refurbishment and improvements at the railway station and Aldi is about to begin discussions on its proposals.

"Also, the council has carried out works to much improve the pedestrian areas in Low Street and Cooke Street – they are virtually complete. This follows work to improve traffic flow in the town centre and the major works at Hard Ings Road.

"We strongly believe that for our district to be successful, we need great town centres. To underpin all that, we have a key priority to bring better transport to the district, as improved connectivity will be vital for building a more vibrant economy in Keighley to grow existing successful businesses and to attract new businesses to the town."