A FUND which gives towns across the country the opportunity to bid for a share of £675m to transform fading high streets into modern, vibrant community hubs has opened for bids.

As reported in the Star, the Future High Streets fund is part of the government’s response to the decline of town centres – a problem evident across large parts of the country, not just in St Helens.

We must hope that council leaders will pour resources and time into pulling together a bid to give St Helens the money needed to drive ahead with a genuine transformation.

A strong bid would have the full backing of the Star.

Many column inches in these Opinion pages through 2018 were devoted to the health and future of St Helens town centre – and it is clearly a subject Star readers are hugely passionate about.

It is tremendously challenging – no one is suddenly going to come along with a magic wand and revive a retail sector which has changed profoundly due to online shopping, digitisation and a decade of stalled wage growth.

But 2019 needs to be a year when we see more visible progress, both short term and long term, which is communicated effectively by the council to the public.

There has been positive signs of investment, led primarily by entrepreneurs creating new restaurants and bars, which is delivering fresh impetus to the nighttime and leisure economy.

And the development of empty buildings into apartments has also gathered pace and is significant as growing residential communities is regarded by strategists as another important part of town centres of the future.

But the coming months will bring more retail pain, with the relocation of M&S and the closure of Argos leaving more empty units and the potential for more negativity.

So a short-term plan – certainly to ensure the appearance of Church Street does not suffer further decline – needs to be in place, while councillors must ensure decisive action is taken to progress the longer-term regeneration plans that were unveiled in 2017.