By politics.co.uk staff
Shops left empty by the recession should be turned into community centres and art galleries to stop them attracting crime, according to a new government initiative.
The communities secretary, Hazel Blears, will announce the measures later today.
£3 million of funding, faster planning procedures and standard short-term leases will all be introduced to make the programme possible.
There will also be extra powers to help councils take over premises.
"Town centres are the heartbeat of every community and businesses are the foundation so it is vital that they remain vibrant places for people to meet and shop throughout the downturn," Hazel Blears will say.
"Empty shops can be eyesores or crime magnets.
"Our ideas for reviving town centres will give communities the know how to temporarily transform vacant premises into something innovative for the community - a social enterprise, a showroom for local artists or an information centre - and stop the High Street being boarded up."
Caroline Spelman, shadow communities secretary, said: "We should take no lessons from Labour ministers given Gordon Brown's policies worsened the misery for local firms. His government are hiking business rates during the recession, including scrapping rate relief on empty property."
Councillor Margaret Eaton, chairman of the Local Government Association, commented: "If ever there is an image that symbolises the times we are in, it is desolate town centres with rows of empty shops where once there were small local retailers, a Woolworths or a Zavvi.
"Decisive action must be taken to stop our high streets turning from clone towns into ghost towns."