High street landlords who allow shops to lie empty for more than a year will be forced to rent them out under government plans to revive town centres.
New legislation in the Queen’s Speech next week will also allow pubs and restaurants to use pavements for al fresco dining permanently in a bid to breathe more life into the high street.
The British Retail Consortium estimates that one in seven high street shops are currently empty, with the figure as high as one in five in the north east of England. High rents and business rates, combined with the impact of the pandemic, have forced the number up in the past two years.
However some town centres can have shops standing boarded-up and empty for years.
A Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill to be unveiled in the Queen’s Speech on Tuesday will provide local councils with new powers for compulsory rental auctions for derelict properties.
It would mean any shop empty for a year or more would be put up for commercial rent through the local council.
Townhall leaders will also be given extra powers to take control of derelict buildings for the benefit of their communities, including for social enterprise projects or housing, through compulsory purchase orders that would not need the consent of the owner.
Boris Johnson claimed the plans would restore “pride” to town centres and local communities and create new jobs and infrastructure.
The government said the legislation would be the central part of its levelling up agenda, which has been widely criticised for a lack of action or concrete policies.
The Prime Minister said: “High streets up and down the country have long been blighted by derelict shopfronts, because they’ve been neglected, stripping opportunity 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.”
Michael Gove, the Levelling Up Secretary, said: “By empowering local communities to rent out shops which have been sat empty for a year or longer, we will end the scourge of boarded-up shops that have blighted some of our great towns across the country for far too long.
“These measures will breathe new life into high streets, transforming once-bustling communities into vibrant places to live and work once again and restoring local pride as we level up across the country.”
In Redhill town centre in Surrey, Banstead and Reigate council has used a compulsory purchase order to regenerate an old car park into a new cinema, shops, leisure facilities and housing.
The new legislation will permanently remove pavement licensing red tape, introduced as a temporary measure to allow greater social distancing during the pandemic, allow more al fresco dining and revitalise high streets.
The Government is also providing £1.7bn of temporary business rates relief in 2022-23 for up to 400,000 retail, hospitality and leisure properties to support the high street as it recovers from the pandemic.
The new measures will be helped by the existing High Streets Task Force, which supports communities to regenerate their high streets to reflect evolving local needs, the Government said.