Landlords in England with empty stores for over a year will be ordered to rent out the premises to prospective tenants in a move by the government to “breathe new life into high streets”.
The Levelling up and Regeneration Bill, which was unveiled in the Queen’s speech on Tuesday, gives local leaders more power to bring retail units back into use through compulsory rental auctions.
Prime minister Boris Johnson said: “High streets up and down the country have long been blighted by derelict shop fronts, because they’ve been neglected, stripping opportunities from local areas.
“We are putting that right by placing power back in the hands of local leaders and the community so our towns can be rejuvenated, levelling up opportunity and restoring neighbourhood pride.”
One in seven stores empty
According to figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC), the number of empty shop fronts has soared to one in seven in England, with that figure increasing to one in five in the North East.
Levelling Up secretary Michael Gove said the move will “breathe new life into high streets”, which have been hit hard during the pandemic.
But Melanie Leech, the chief executive of the British Property Federation (BPF), described compulsory rent auctions as “political gimmicks” and “not the solution” to revitalising town centres, according to the BBC.
She said: “No property owner wants their premises to be empty. In our experience, property owners are willing to do zero-rent deals to avoid boarded-up shop fronts.
“But the burden of business rates and other occupational costs mean it is still unviable for many small and independent businesses to trade from town-centre premises.”