Propertymark welcomes new levelling up powers to fill empty shops, but more detail is needed

Propertymark has welcomed new levelling up powers to fill empty shops throughout England, but they would like to see more detail from the UK Government regarding which areas will benefit the most from funding, and how it will be appropriately funded and enforced by local authorities.

With commercial property being a vital component of the UK property market, Propertymark argues that a balance would need to be achieved as large amounts of commercial property are auctioned in areas with little demand, which could further drive down rents.

The UK Government announced on 14 May that by the summer, there will be new powers for communities to regenerate high streets and fill empty shops.

Additionally, the new local authority power to tackle high street vacancy will be called High Street Rental Auctions, which will enable local authorities to take control of unused properties blighting their high streets and rent them out to local businesses that intend to use them.

Thanks to the new powers, councils should be able to level up their high streets and clamp down on high street neglect triggered by issues that have emerged from the aftermath of the lockdowns, such as low visitor numbers, surging unemployment and increased anti-social behaviour.

If a high street shop has been vacant for over a year, High Street Rental Auctions will enable local authorities to intervene and auction off a rental lease for approximately five years. There will be no reserve price during the auction process, providing local businesses and community groups the chance to occupy space on the high street at a competitive market rate.

The UK Government is initiating a new ‘trailblazer’ programme to get High Street Rental Auctions operating immediately, and to cooperate with many communities who are eager to lead the way in implementing the new powers quickly.

Also, the UK Government issued its response to a technical consultation on 14 May, laying out the details to assist councils with enacting the policy. The first auctions should start in September once the new law is laid out to Parliament and the first new unit occupied should be open to everyone in October.

There will also be a new pilot programme that should initiate regeneration on England’s declining high streets that will also provide 10 areas a share of £5 million to plant new trees, green walls, green pocket spaces, and enhancing existing parks. £500,000 will be given to 10 local authorities participating in the programme to persuade residents to use their shops.

Five high streets in the North West, three in Yorkshire and Humberside, one in the West Midlands, and one in the East of England will receive money from the UK Government’s High Street Accelerators pilot programme, with an ambition to assist councils most in need, and if successful, it could be rolled out more widely in England.

High Street Rental Auctions and High Street Accelerators are part of the UK Government’s commitment in its 2023 Anti-Social Behaviour Action Plan, which complements its substantial levelling up programme to enhance every part of the UK by 2030 through a £15 billion fund.

Finally, the UK Government is also supporting the High Streets (Designation, Review and Improvement Plan) Bill which should guarantee that councils frequently develop and publish improvement plans for their high streets, which is facing its Second Reading in the House of Lords on 17 May.

Michael Sears, NAEA Commercial Advisory Panel Member at Propertymark, said:

“Propertymark very much welcomes these new levelling up powers that will help local councils fill empty shops throughout England. However, there are still some issues that need to be addressed as the scheme starts to get rolled out, especially in terms of funding and which areas in England will receive most help. Giving local authorities these powers is fundamentally a positive thing if it results in the regeneration of disused property, but it would be good to see more details very soon.”