Commercial property landlords could be forced to rent out empty properties as part of the Government’s ‘Levelling Up’ agenda.
The measure was introduced in the Queen’s Speech this month and is designed to help regenerate the UK’s high streets. The move has come after many premises closed because of the move to internet shopping and the effects of the pandemic.
Mixed reaction from industry
The plan generated a mixed reaction, with one property industry body calling it a political gimmick and a hospitality spokesperson saying it will regenerate the high street and create jobs.
It creates a new power to require landlords to put retail units that had been vacant for more than a year into a compulsory rental auction overseen by local authorities.
Why is this happening?
According to figures from the British Retail Consortium, one in seven shops across the country is sitting empty.
The Government says it wants to reduce the number of boarded-up premises on the high street and open opportunities for new enterprises and community groups. They say this should bring people back into town and boost the local economy.
How will it work?
After a short grace period which gives landlords to occupy the premises, local authorities will be able to instigate an auction, inviting bids from interested parties.
That would allow the successful bidder, whether a business or a community group, to take over the premises.
Burden of business rates
The Chief Executive of the British Property Federation (BPF), Melanie Leech, told the BBC: “We fully support the Government’s ambitions to revitalise town centres, but political gimmicks such as compulsory rent auctions are not the solution.
“No property owner wants their premises to be empty. In our experience, property owners are willing to do zero-rent deals to avoid boarded-up shopfronts.
“But the burden of business rates and other occupational costs mean it is still unviable for many small and independent businesses to trade from town-centre premises.”
But Kate Nicholls, Chief Executive of industry body UK Hospitality, said: “Proposals to get empty premises back into use – if properly considered and scrutinised – can make a huge difference in rejuvenating empty properties and, in turn, reviving high streets in our towns and cities.
“It’s vital to the health of high streets that we reduce the number of shuttered properties that could otherwise be trading and generating jobs, revenue, and tax receipts.”
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