Local government minister Grant Shapps today named 15 more towns and cities that will become Portas Pilots and so receive regeneration funding.
Each getting a share of £1.5m, they join the 12 centres that have already been selected for the scheme, which was one of retail guru Mary Portas' recommendations to government for revitalising the UK's failing high streets.
The latest pilots are: Ashford, Berwick, Braintree, Brighton, Hatfield, Royal Leamington Spa, Liverpool, Loughborough, Lowestoft, Morecambe, Rotherham and Tiverton, and Waterloo, Forest Hill and Tower Hamlets in London.
The British Independent Retailers Association welcomed the news, but pointed out that hundreds of other towns are blighted by unprecedented shop vacancy rates that have left more than one in 10 stores shuttered and empty.
And it said the timing of the announcement coincided with the findings of BIRA's latest quarterly sales monitor that independents - two in every three shops in the country and the mainstay of the Portas Pilot towns - suffered a new downturn in trade in the second quarter of the year. First quarter growth of 2.3% was replaced by a year-on-year fall of 2.1% in the second quarter.
BIRA deputy chief executive Michael Weedon commented: "The Portas Pilot money is desperately needed and equally welcome, but we mustn't forget that it's only a tiny fraction of the increase in business rates that the government has added this year to the billions that it's extracting from those same high streets.
"We mustn't also forget that Town Teams and their pilots come out of just two of Mary Portas' 28 recommendations. The threat to the health of our towns remains."
Grant Shapps congratulated the 15 towns that had now secured Portas Pilot status "in the face of stiff competition. But this is just the tip of the iceberg, and I'm determined that we don't turn our backs on the other 392 Town Teams who put their plans forward to revive their high streets."
However, shadow planning minister Roberta Blackman-Woods raised concerns about the towns whose applications had failed.
"There are now a record 23,406 empty shops in town centres alone, but ministers are still failing to grasp the seriousness of the situation," she said. "This government's failed economic policy and double-dip recession made in Downing Street is clearly damaging high streets across the country, and short-term schemes like this will not be enough to save them."
Meanwhile, the British Retail Consortium has pledged to offer all 27 of the successful bidders a "package of practical support." This will include access to business information held by the BRC, which will "help [the towns] better manage and plan their activity," according to BRC director general Stephen Robertson.
He added: "High streets are the heartbeat of our communities, providing jobs and services but many of them are seeing long-standing difficulties compounded by customers' current difficulties.
"The pilots are a good start towards meaningful action which could help town centres turn their fortunes around. Announcing more pilots will provide a wider platform of support for regeneration across England and we want to back that by pledging our own package of practical help to them at no cost. Offering the 27 access to our valuable business information will help ...[make] it more likely they can deliver the revival we all want."