BUSINESSES will soon be offered interest-free loans in latest plans to boost Southend’s High Street.

The idea is for landlords and traders to be given 0per cent loans in an attempt to entice them to change the layout of their shops and expand them by bringing into play unused back office space.

Another part of the plans is to create “pop up venues”, for events such as comedy nights, to temporarily combat the vacant shops problem.

Suzanne Gloyne, Southend Business Improvement District manager, is optimistic about the plans and the High Street’s future.

She said: “Thanks to this 0per cent loan scheme, it will now be possible for businesses to develop unused floor spaces in an economically viable way, which will help them to generate better returns.

“Just think of how many vacant upper floors could now be utilised in a creative and innovative way.

“However, the council will need to appropriately support local businesses by minimising the complexity and stages of the application process.”

Shop owners will also be encouraged to take more pride and invest in external shop improvements, aided by a new council grant where the authority pays 25per cent towards any improvements.

Mrs Gloyne believes bringing empty shops back into action, even temporarily, will make a huge difference.

She added: “Pop-ups are obviously not a long-term solution, but using these premises fortemporary purposes and special events, whilst they are between leases, is ideal.

“Creating experience-led events, as the BID already does through events such as The Southend Festival, is a great way to bring more visitors into town, largely because of the ‘fear of missing out’ factor.

“But also because people are increasingly looking to spend their money and leisure time on new and memorable experiences.

“I think the opportunity for premises to temporarily change, say from a shop into a comedy club, music venue or restaurant, will help ensure vacant units do not fall into disrepair.”