A scheme to encourage retailers to take space in Rotherham has been launched enabling new businesses to have part of their rent paid by the council.

In one of the first local authority initiatives to ease rent and other payments for retailers, independent shops will receive contributions from Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council if they open in the town.

Up to 50 per cent of the first year’s rent will be paid for by the local authority, and up to 25 per cent the second year. Fit-out costs will also be subsidised.

The scheme is part of a drive by the council to reduce the town’s number of retail voids.

A council spokeswoman said most of the voids are in secondary and tertiary areas where "independents and small chains would be more suited", but that the council is also grappling with the problem of several voids in much larger units in Rotherham’s primary shopping area.

“We are going through a difficult economic climate,” the council spokeswoman said. “This is our way of helping people to get into independent retailing and help small business to expand in the town centre.”

The town has been hit by the collapse of Woolworths and Roseby’s, both of which had stores on the primary shopping street.

It has also suffered from the departure of Marks & Spencer from the town centre.

M&S opened at the Parkgate shopping centre outside Rotherham three years ago and a permanent occupier of its previous town centre location has not been found since. It had been sub-letting its unit to local department store Waremart, which has now left the building.

The council is considering measures to boost the prime shopping area including free parking at certain times and a decision is expected in the next few weeks. Parking charges have already been frozen for the whole of 2009.