A RED-TAPE-BUSTING scheme which aims to tackle the blight of empty shops looks set to be extended.

Three years ago, Bradford Council passed two orders relaxing planning rules for the city centre, in a bid to get more people living and spending their money there.

The first allowed people to turn premises, mainly in streets around The Broadway shopping centre, into shops, offices, restaurants or bars without the need for a planning application, making it quicker and easier to set up a business.

The second allowed owners to convert empty floors above shops into up to nine flats without having to apply for planning permission.

Now, with vacancy rates remaining a concern, a planning committee is poised to extend the orders for a further three years.

A report to the Council’s Regulatory and Appeals committee, which meets tomorrow, says the orders have so far seen 43 flats created in vacant rooms above shops, as well as a drop in the number of empty shops in the streets around The Broadway.

This includes the development of The Xchange, formerly Arndale House, in Broadway, where a gym and new restaurants have sprung up.

But it says there are still a “noticeable number of vacant units” in the area, while “large amounts of upper floor space remains underused”.

Councillor Alex Ross-Shaw, who oversees planning at the Council, said: “The development of The Broadway and the surrounding area has been crucial to Bradford’s resurgence in the past few years and as Local Development Orders played a positive role in that it makes sense to continue them for another three years.

“We also have ambitious targets on city centre housing and these orders are helping facilitate more homes in buildings that are otherwise sitting empty.”

A traders’ group has welcomed the plans to extend the scheme.

Val Summerscales, secretary of the Bradford District Chamber of Trade, said: “From our point of view, relaxing the red tape to make it easier for entrepreneurs to develop the upper floors is good.

“Where we have upper floors, and they have been empty for a while, it’s obviously a good use to turn them into flats. The people that live there use the city centre during the day, at lunchtimes, and they also take part in the evening economy, so I can see it’s a very good idea.”

Mrs Summerscales said as long as planners were happy that they still had enough rules to prevent any developments “they didn’t want to see”, the Chamber of Trade would support the idea continuing.