Empty shops will be given a new lease of life under a radical plan to revitalise high streets.
Landlords will be forced to let out retail units that have been vacant for longer than six months under the Government’s new plans.
It will allow community groups and small businesses to take over boarded-up properties that blight once thriving town centres, hopefully returning them to their former glories.
The new powers will be introduced as part of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, which will be announced in the Queen’s Speech next month.
The number of empty shops has soared since the pandemic with many that were shuttered during lockdowns failing to get back on their feet as the shift towards online shopping accelerated.
Fashion retailers have been among the hardest hit, with the closure of brands such as Debenhams and Topshop contributing to vacancies.
Across the country, one in seven shops is sitting empty according to latest figures from the British Retail Consortium. The north-east of England has the highest vacancy rate, with one in five closed.
Under the new plan, local authorities will be able to force landlords to rent out commercial property on high streets through a Compulsory Rental Auction.
After a short grace period for landlords to fill the shop, local authorities will be able to instigate an auction, inviting bids from interested parties.
Ministers hope this will reduce the number of boarded-up shops while creating new opportunities for local small businesses and community groups and helping increase footfall and spending in town centres.
A government source said: ‘The Government’s mission to level up will breathe new life into these great towns and end the scourge of boarded- up shops sucking the soul out of once-bustling high streets.’
Business leaders and campaign groups rallied behind the plan last night.
Charlie Mullins OBE, founder of Pimlico Plumbers, said: ‘We cannot keep having our high streets looking like the day after the apocalypse.
‘This will spark much-needed life back into our towns and cities.’
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of industry body UK Hospitality, said: ‘We welcome these new proposals to rejuvenate empty properties, which can blight an area, stimulate innovation and accelerate economic growth and recovery.’
Greater Manchester’s night time economy adviser Sacha Lord said: ‘Funding to repurpose empty outlets into retail, leisure or hospitality premises will not only aid town centre recovery but will encourage the public to shop local.