Vacant properties in a County Durham town centre will be brought back into use in a scheme to increase visitors, boost footfall and restore the high street.

Durham County Council will be using £1 million from the government’s £19.9 million Future High Streets Fund to help businesses and investors find new uses for vacant buildings in Bishop Auckland.

This scheme is part of the Property Reuse Fund, a project within the Future High Streets programme which aims to revitalise the high street and contribute to the town’s economic growth by diversifying its visitor offer.

The fund will help by supporting new and existing businesses to redevelop properties or expand into vacant upper floors and bring more non-retail uses to the town, such as visitor accommodation.

By reducing vacancy rates and bringing buildings back into use with a more diverse and modern retail, hospitality and accommodation offer, the Property Reuse Fund will help bring significant economic benefits to the town by attracting visitors who will want to stay longer, leading to higher levels of spend during visits.

Data from Visit County Durham suggests that a day visitor to the Durham Dales spends £22 whilst an overnight visitor spends £208. By encouraging businesses and investors to convert vacant buildings or upper floors into accommodation, there will be a greater economic boost as a result of the increased levels of spend.

It will help to create a more thriving town centre which will benefit residents and support the wider county in its economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

The Property Reuse Fund and the Future High Streets Fund is a vital part of the council’s Bishop Auckland Masterplan and its investment of over £50 million to regenerate the town centre.

The Future High Streets Funding will help boost the town’s retail and hospitality sector, supporting the conversion of under-used buildings and ensuring the area is accessible with a new bus station and car parks, providing better links to key visitor attractions.

It will be reinforced by the council’s successful Stronger Towns bid, which sets out a vision for the town as a world-class heritage destination and a gateway to the Durham Dales, with the visitor economy playing a significant part in ensuring the county’s economic growth.

The town was also awarded Heritage Action Zone (HAZ) status in 2018 and has over 50 projects and buildings within the programme to enhance Bishop Auckland’s historic significance.

These plans will be further boosted if the council is also successful in its recent submission for funding for Bishop Auckland from the government’s Levelling Up Fund which will support three schemes to improve connectivity, reduce travel times and expand economic and cultural opportunities in and around South West Durham.

Furthermore, all of the plans and proposals support the council’s Towns and Villages Strategy, which aims to act as a catalyst for further regeneration and investment throughout County Durham and seeks to align the council’s budgets and activities to ensure they deliver the best outcomes for communities.

Cllr Elizabeth Scott, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for economy and partnerships, said: “The Property Reuse Fund is just one part of the significant amount of investment and regeneration planned for Bishop Auckland to boost its economic viability and create an even more vibrant and attractive place for people to live, work and visit.

“Through this investment the town will achieve sustainable economic growth, becoming a stronger economic contributor to the North East region and bringing wider benefits to areas across the county.

“Bringing vacant buildings back into use to create an even more diverse and dynamic visitor offer is one element of the exciting future for Bishop Auckland, the effects of which will be felt right across the county.”

Businesses can apply for the fund by e-mailing

For more information on the Future High Street Fund, visit