High street plans could bring 58,000 empty shops back into use

·2-min read

Forcing landlords to rent out empty high street shops could bring up to 58,000 premises back into use, a think tank has said.

Analysis by the centre-right think tank Onward found rising vacancy rates meant there were around 58,000 empty shops across the UK.

In the North, there were almost 13,200 empty high street shops, only slightly less than the 13,500 empty premises in London despite the North having fewer shops overall.

Boarded up shops
Think tank Onward found rising vacancy rates meant there were around 58,000 empty shops across the UK. (Tim Goode/PA)

It could also see up to 9,000 shops brought back into use in the Midlands, 3,000 in Scotland and 2,700 in Wales.

Onward’s director Will Tanner said the figures demonstrated the impact that Government proposals to hold compulsory rent auctions could have.

The proposals, included in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill that had its first House of Commons debate on June 8, would give councils the power to hold a rent auction where a town centre shop had been empty for more than a year.

The landlords of the property would still be able to choose the winning bid, but would have to accept one, forcing them to bring the premises back into use.

Mr Tanner, who was one of Theresa May’s Downing Street advisers, said: “Empty shops are a blight on high streets right across the country. They aren’t only a very visible sign that the local economy is in dire need of levelling up, they are also a blow to civic pride.

“Any tenant is better than no tenant at all so the Government is right to be taking steps to address this problem by forcing commercial landlords sitting on vacant shops to make them available to the community.”

In a report published on Monday, Mr Tanner argued that the large commercial property owners such as financial institutions and overseas investors had contributed to long-term vacancies in British high streets.

The report said these types of owners accounted for half of all empty properties in the UK as they had little incentive to accept lower rents.

It said: “Rising land values will likely have delivered year-on-year capital appreciation irrespective of whether the property is vacant or occupied.

“The costs of holding vacant retail property, in the form of business rates, will be miniscule within a multi-billion-dollar investment portfolio.”

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