SENIOR councillors have given their formal approval to setting up a commission tasked with boosting the fortunes of the town centre.

Headed by former town centre manager Ged Gibbons its aim is to “stimulate retail growth” and attract people to the town centre.

Reports in papers from last week's council cabinet meeting states that many shops are vulnerable to the growth of online shopping and competition from other borough and cities, including the vast Liverpool One development.

The council admit that the number of empty units, which currently stands at 30, is continuing to rise as the number of visitors decline.

This compares with 27 empty units in 2009.

The Town Centre Improvement Commission will produce a strategy to secure the area's long term future.

Its aims will include: Producing, monitoring and updating an action plan.

Working closely with landlords to ensure vacant properties are occupied,.

Targeting retailers which would attract shoppers.

Reviewing parking and seek to attract visitors to the town centre, as opposed to people who work there.

Feeding back ideas to the cabinet about how to improve occupancy levels.

Assessing the events programme so it has maximum impact

A sum of £1 million pounds has already been set aside for the commission to ensure that a strategy is in place by March 2015.

In a separate development, the cabinet agreed to introduce free parking on roads and car parks in the town centre each Saturday for the next year. The decision follows information passed to the council from retailers that there is a noticeable downturn in trade on Saturdays.

Speaking to the Star in July to celebrate independent retailers in St Helens, Mr Gibbons said: “The key for successful town centres is to pick out key strengths, their particular unique selling points, and to harness the support of the local community.

“Our towns are more Darwinian than ever – it is survival of the fittest! You only have to look what happened to Woolworths and music shops like HMV.

“The lower end products are still in our town and city centres, no longer Woolworths but B&M, Home Bargains and a 99p Store. It is customer-led and the market follows the demand.

“We need a town centre strategy where we can communicate to the people of St Helens and its visitors, where the town is going.