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Empty shops to be made available under plans to revive high streets

Pedestrians walking past an empty shop unit (PA)
Pedestrians walking past an empty shop unit (PA)

Landlords will have to make shops that have been vacant for more than a year available to prospective tenants under plans to revitalise struggling town centres.

Unlocking new powers for local authorities to bring empty premises back into use and instigate rental auctions of vacant commercial properties in town centres and on high streets has been included in the Queen’s Speech.

Other measures include the ability to make the pavement cafes which sprang up during the Covid-19 pandemic a permanent part of the town centre landscape.

Under the Levelling up and Regeneration Bill measures to revive England’s high streets, councils will be given powers to take control of buildings for the benefit of their communities.

People sat at tables on pavements
During the pandemic, restaurants, pubs and bars were granted temporary powers to serve guests on pavements (PA)

Compulsory rental auctions will ensure that landlords make shops that have been vacant for more than a year available to prospective tenants.

Authorities will also be given greater powers to use compulsory purchase orders to deliver housing, regeneration schemes and infrastructure.

Officials previously highlighted British Retail Consortium figures showing about one in seven shops were vacant, with as many as a fifth empty in the North East.

Shops have been hit by high rental and business rate costs and declining demand as consumers have moved online, a trend exacerbated by the pandemic.

During the pandemic, restaurants, pubs and bars were granted temporary powers to serve guests on pavements.

Through new legislation, these powers will be made permanent to expand capacity for businesses in the hope of boosting local economies.

Independent retail marketplace Ankorstore said it was a “huge advocate” for the legislation.

Jina Kwon, UK country manager at Ankorstore, said: “This is a great move forward for championing the success of independent retailers across the United Kingdom.

“The impact of forcing landlords to rent out non-tenanted properties on a high street should lower the cost of entry for many local independent retailers, who are looking to reignite their businesses after the ongoing effects of the pandemic continue to be felt.

“In putting the power in the hands of local leaders, communities will be able to experience more variety and competition in their local area, encouraging growth and regeneration within boroughs, and not just in city centres.”

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