UK plans to force landlords to let out empty stores confirmed
The UK government has confirmed earlier rumours that it has plans to force landlords to rent out empty stores to try to breathe life back into high streets.
In the Queen’s Speech at the opening of the new session of Parliament, the Levelling up and Regeneration Bill was announced that will give councils new planning powers.
It means stores empty for over a year will have to be made available to prospective tenants with local authorities having new powers that mean they can take control of buildings to benefit their communities.
The move comes as large numbers of properties lie empty post-pandemic due to retail businesses having failed and selected closures on the part of surviving retail chains. But some properties that were empty several years before the pandemic also remain empty in what some believe is an inevitable decline of physical retail in the face of e-shopping’s growth.
It would mean compulsory rental auctions to address the fact that an estimated one in seven stores are currently unoccupied — or as many as one in five in parts of the country.
But it could mean more empty retail building being converted to homes.
The plans have received a mixed response with a fairly predictable thumbs up from those who might benefit from them but a thumbs down from the property sector. The British Property Federation, for instance, has called such auctions a “political gimmick”.
And others in the retail sector lamented the absence of alternative — and easier — ideas to revitalise retail.
Jace Tyrrell, outgoing CEO of the New West End Company, said: “It is encouraging to see the ongoing commitment from the Government to its levelling-up agenda across the country and to measures to reduce regulations on businesses and promote economic growth. We welcome the support that the Government has given to retailers across the UK, but we believe it needs to go further by relaxing Sunday Trading Laws in the UK’s two designated International Centres — Knightsbridge and the West End.
“Sunday is now the busiest shopping day across the West End; in fact, New West End Company research estimates that extended shopping hours on a Sunday could generate at least an additional £250 million each year in the district alone. It would also go far in supporting less profitable high streets across the country and fund important manufacturing jobs for some of Britain’s biggest luxury retailers, whose goods are made in other parts of the country.
“We urge the Government to consider this cost-free policy to help the high street recover.”
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