AN INITIATIVE to make the city's long-standing empty shops look more vibrant has been given a funding boost of £5,000.

The grant was approved by Salisbury Area Board on Thursday night.

The aim of the project, which is costing around £10,000, is to improve the city centre for visitors and residents as well as improve the image of the business community in Salisbury to attract potential investors.

The design of the window vinyls will be used to showcase Salisbury and tie into the Salisbury 2020 celebrations.

Robin McGowan, the chief executive of Salisbury Business Improvement District (BID), said it was working with a number of partners on the project, adding: "We are looking at really ensuring the vibrancy of the long-standing empty shops in the city centre. We have a reasonable low vacancy rate compared to the rest of the country but we have some very noticeable long-standing ones.

"With [Salisbury] 2020 and all the activity around making sure the city is attractive in 2020 we want to work with the 2020 designs and tell stories of the city through the shop vinyls in these businesses."

He told the meeting that the BID was already working with landlords to move the project forward and had some sponsors confirmed already. A group has also been set up and was working with the brand reposition project to make sure the design fitted in with this.

Councillor Mary Douglas said she fully supported the scheme. She said: "Sometimes I look at the street scene of some of the shop fronts, especially the empty ones, and it is just not clever."

She said the project was a "brilliant idea". 

Councillor Matthew Dean echoed this support and praised the shop fronts that had already been done in Fisherton Street.

He also said: "My appeal for the BID is to encourage the council through the planning process to serve improvement notices on some of the shops that are in a particularly poor state that is something as a BID that you have the power to do."

Councillor Atiqul Hoque questioned why only £500 had been put into the project by the BID and felt its contribution should have been a bit higher as it was leading the project.

However, Robin McGowan said: "We have lots of budgetary requirements. We are also managing the resourcing and install. Talking to and finding other sponsors takes time."

"If you want us to drop other projects to put more money into this one we could do that but the priority is to ensure it gets off the ground and hopefully encourage other landlords to invest in their own properties as well."

Ten funding partners, including the BID, Salisbury City Council, Salisbury Chamber of Commerce, Salisbury Cathedral, and Aspire Defence, have contributed £500 to the project. 

It is also being supported by VisitWiltshire and Myddelton and Major.

The meeting heard landlords of the empty shops are also being asked to contribute to the project.

Councillor Brian Dalton said: "It's a good idea to tidy up some of the bare shop fronts when they become vacant.

"Nobody has yet mentioned how tragic it is that we have got so many empty shops, to be honest.

"I would rather see something in that shop rather than us trying to cover the windows up with scenes of Salisbury.

"Lessons for the shop owners: reduce your bloody rents!"

Speaking after, the meeting, Mr McGowan said: "Enhancing the appearance of the city is a priority for a number of stakeholders, so we’ve formed this partnership to tidy up some of the prominent empty shops in the city.

“Yes, ideally everyone would like these shops filled with businesses, which is an ongoing challenge we’re working with other stakeholders on to try to improve, however this is an alternative that will improve the visibility of these shops and the overall vibrancy of Salisbury’s city centre.

“We’re still working on the designs of the window wraps, however we can tell you that these will be an interesting and unique concept.

“We’re delighted to see so much support for this project and so many organisations getting behind it - if any other organisations want to support the project, then we encourage them to get in touch. The more contributions to the pot; the more empty shops we can dress.”