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Plans to revive struggling town centres will form a key plan of the Queen’s Speech as Boris Johnson tries to reset his Government following damaging local election results.
The Prime Minister said the plans would rid high streets of “derelict shopfronts” and restore neighbourhood pride, with councils given extra powers to force landlords to rent out empty shops.
Other measures will include the ability to make the pavement cafes which sprang up during the Covid-19 pandemic a permanent part of the town centre landscape.
The Queen’s Speech, being delivered in Parliament on Tuesday, will be used by Mr Johnson as an attempt to show his administration is focused on people’s concerns on issues including the rising cost-of-living following a bruising set of local elections influenced by the partygate row and the behaviour of Tory MPs.
Under the Levelling up and Regeneration Bill measures to revive England’s high streets, councils will be given powers to take control of buildings for the benefit of their communities.
Compulsory rental auctions will ensure that landlords make shops that have been vacant for more than a year available to prospective tenants.
Authorities will also be given greater powers to use compulsory purchase orders to deliver housing, regeneration schemes and infrastructure.
Mr Johnson 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.”
Officials highlighted British Retail Consortium figures showing about one-in-seven shops were vacant, with as many as a fifth empty in the North East.
Shops have been hit by high rental and business rate costs and declining demand as consumers have moved online, a trend exacerbated by the pandemic.
Levelling Up Secretary, Michael Gove, 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.”
The measures aimed at making a continental-style cafe culture a permanent feature of England’s towns and cities will also feature in the Government’s plans.
During the pandemic, restaurants, pubs and bars were granted temporary powers to serve guests on pavements.
Through new legislation, these powers will be made permanent to expand capacity for businesses in the hope of boosting local economies.
The Queen’s Speech is not expected to include proposed plans to ban the import of fur and foie gras.
The Times newspaper reported the measure had been dropped after Cabinet critics warned it was “fundamentally unconservative”.
The Animals Abroad Bill is expected to include a ban on the trade in hunting trophies and the sale and promotion of travel experiences which are cruel to animals.
On Saturday, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said the Queen’s Speech package would “demonstrate to the nation that the second half of this Parliament is all about dealing with repairing the economy, recovering from Covid, the backlog of the NHS and national security”.
Other measures expected in the package include a Brexit Freedoms Bill to make it easier to remove legacy EU laws and a Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act.