A MAJOR initiative has been unveiled to bring new businesses, investment and jobs to Keighley.

Regeneration chiefs say the scheme, launched this weekend, will breathe fresh life into the town.

Firms will be offered financial incentives to expand their operations, bringing empty units and buildings back into use and creating employment.

The move comes amid concerns about the length of time some historic properties in Keighley – such as the former Victoria Hotel – have been unoccupied, and the pending departure of Marks & Spencer.

Under the new venture, known as the District Growth Scheme, businesses expanding into the town will receive whacking rate reductions.

New developments which create over 20 full-time-equivalent jobs will earn up to three years' rate relief.

Firms that refurbish listed properties vacant for over a year can claim sliding-scale rates reductions, from 100 per cent in the first year to 25 per cent in the third.

And businesses moving into previously-vacant premises in the town centre, and generating new jobs, would be in line for 12 months' rate relief.

A similar programme in the centre of Bradford has been massively successful, bringing 85 empty retail units back into use, supporting 45 start-ups and creating over 700 jobs.

Bradford Council will give priority to applications from financial, legal, business and professional services, leisure and retail firms, as well as companies in high-growth sectors such as small-scale advanced manufacturing, green technology, and creative and digital fields.

Some types of business are excluded from the programme – such as betting shops, amusement arcades, car parks, adult shops and hot food takeaways.

The initiative has been welcomed as a major boost for the town.

Paul Howard, manager of Keighley BID, said any scheme that promoted investment in the town centre – particularly one which encouraged new businesses to move into the area – had to be applauded.

"New investment leads to new jobs and new jobs in the town centre mean more footfall for our existing businesses," he added.

"We are often asked about available support, so this scheme is certainly something we will be promoting to our existing members and as any new enquiries come in."

Keighley MP John Grogan also praised the venture.

He added: "Over the past nine months since I was elected I have had continuing discussions with Bradford Council about extending schemes of rate relief.

"I have been particularly impressed by the scheme at North Parade in Bradford, where rate concessions have helped to regenerate what was a rundown area into a lively spot with bars and cafes.

"In Keighley town centre there are many empty buildings which need a new purpose. I am hoping that this new rate relief scheme will help bring back at least some of them into life."

Keighley councillor Adrian Farley, who chairs the council's regeneration and economy overview and scrutiny committee, said the programme represented a "win win" situation for the town.

"I have significant concern about the departure of M&S but this scheme should bring new investment," he said.

"It is a way of attracting new businesses to Keighley and increasing the footfall, providing an enhanced and balanced offer for shoppers and creating jobs.

"We don't have a huge number of empty units, but it will help eliminate some of those that are vacant."

Councillor Alex Ross-Shaw – portfolio holder for regeneration, planning and transport – said the programme was part of a raft of measures included in the new Bradford District Economic Growth strategy.

"The strategy outlines the key assets of our district, including our heritage buildings and towns like Keighley," he added.

"Our towns provide a distinctive offer for people considering investing or living here and we want to support that with the District Growth Scheme, which will help unlock our huge potential.

"It's our businesses and entrepreneurs who take the risks and make the investments but we can do our bit with schemes like this to lay the foundations for growth which investors can utilise."

For more details about the scheme, visit investinbradford.com, e-mail info@investinbradford.com or call 01274 437727.