OPTIMISM among small businesses has increased since last year, as a competition to find the UK's best high street returns.

Northwich was highly commended in the Great British High Street 'Rising Star' category last year, praising the level of aspiration and initiatives within the town centre.

Competition sponsor Visa has released new figures showing that 57 per cent of small businesses in the north west are optimistic about the future of their high street – up from 51 per cent last year.

Meanwhile, 45 per cent are looking to take on more staff and 28 per cent are planning to open another store within 12 months.

In 2018, 34.511 independent high street stores opened for business across the UK, up 4.5 per cent on 2017.

High streets minister, Jake Berry MP, said: “These government awards celebrate the dedicated shop keepers, the committed volunteers and forward-thinking councils who together are creating vibrant and dynamic high streets that are loved by their communities.

“Last year more than 200 high streets across the land battled it out in a hotly contested competition to be crowned Britain’s best.

“I would encourage communities across the nation to enter, so their high streets and the people working in them gain the recognition they fully deserve.”

The awards recognise and celebrate achievements on the UK’s high streets, across the 'Champion' and 'Rising Star' categories.

Last year's north west 'Champion' was Altrincham, while Todmorden, in Calderdale won 'Rising Star'.

Nominations can be made by local authorities, Business Improvement Districts and – for the first time – groups of high street retailers, with shortlisted entries to be announced in August.