Councils in England to get new powers to fill empty shops and boost high streets

Councils in England to get new powers to fill empty shops and boost high streets
Dan Martin
Dan MartinDan Martin Content & Events

Posted: Wed 15th May 2024

New powers will be introduced in England this summer allowing councils to take control of empty shops and rent them out to small businesses and community groups, the government has announced.

Where a retail premises has been empty for over a year, the new high street rental auctions rule will mean local authorities can step in and auction off a rental lease for up to five years.

Auctions will take place without a reserve price. The aim is to give local businesses and community groups the chance to occupy space at a competitive market rate.

To launch the auctions, the government said it will provide £2m to help the first local authorities get started as part of a "trailblazer programme".

The first auctions are expected to take place in September, with the first new unit occupied and open to the public in October.

Details to help councils to enact the policy are published in the government's response to a technical consultation.

Jacob Young, the minister for levelling up, said:

"We want to bring high streets back to life and these new levelling up powers will help do just that.

"A lively high street brings an irreplaceable community spirit, one that is unique to its own area, along with new jobs and opportunities for local people.

"These new powers will enable local communities to take back control, backed by over £15 billion of levelling up funding which is transforming towns and left-behind communities across the UK."

Regenerating UK high streets

The auctions are among several efforts by the government to regenerate struggling high streets.

Data from the Local Data Company found that in the first quarter of 2023, one in every seven high street shops in the UK were closed.

Separate 2021 figures from Whythawk showed that over eight in 10 of vacant properties have been empty for more than two years, and over one in five have been empty for more than four years.

Among the other efforts by the government to regenerate high streets is the High Street Accelerators pilot programme which has given 10 areas a share of £5m.

Among the locations that have received funding are Union Street and Yorkshire Street in Oldham, King William Street in Blackburn, the Stepney area of Beverley Road in Hull and Dovercourt town centre in Tendring.

The government said it will be rolled out in other areas if the pilot scheme is successful.

The government is also supporting the High Streets (Designation, Review and Improvement Plan) Bill which aims to ensure councils routinely develop and publish improvement plans for their high streets. This bill will have its second reading in the House of Lords on 17 May.

Related retail resources

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How to design a pop-up shop

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Group: Small retailers network

Dan Martin
Dan MartinDan Martin Content & Events
I'm a freelance content creator and event host who helps small businesses and the organisations that support them. I'm also Enterprise Nation's Local Leader for Bristol. I have 20 years of experience as a small business journalist having interviewed hundreds of entrepreneurs from famous names like Sir Richard Branson and Deborah Meaden to the founders behind brand new start-ups. I've worked for a range of leading small business publications and support groups, most recently as head of content at Enterprise Nation where I was responsible for the prolific output of content on the company's blog and social media. I now freelance for Enterprise Nation as the website's news reporter and as the host of the Small Business sessions podcast. I'm based in Bristol where I run and host regular events with the local small business community in my role as Enterprise Nation's Local Leader for Bristol. I also have strong connections with other major business organisations in the south west region. In total, I've hosted over 100 events including conferences with an audience of hundreds for international brands like Xero and Facebook and live web chats from inside 10 Downing Street. With my partner, I co-run Lifestyle District, a lifestyle blog focused on culture, art, theatre and photography.

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