New levelling up powers to fill empty shops across England

New powers will come into effect this summer to help communities take back control of their high streets and revive empty shops to accelerate regeneration

New powers for communities to regenerate high streets and fill empty shops will be in force by the summer, the government has announced today (14/05/24).

High Street Rental Auctions, a new local authority power to combat high street vacancy, will allow local leaders who know their area best to take control of empty properties blighting their high streets and rent them out to local businesses that want use them.

The new powers will help councils level up their high streets and tackle wide-ranging issues stemming from prolonged high street emptiness exacerbated by the pandemic, such as low footfall which leads to struggling businesses, increased unemployment and anti-social behaviour.

Where a high street shop has been empty for over a year, High Street Rental Auctions will allow local leaders to step in and auction off a rental lease for up to five years. Auctions will take place with no reserve price, giving local businesses and community groups the opportunity to occupy space on the high street at a competitive market rate.

To help get High Street Rental Auctions up and running as soon as possible, the government is launching new ‘trailblazer’ programme so it can work with a number of communities who are keen to lead the way in quickly implementing the new powers. There will also be a £2 million support pot to help them and other local authorities to get started across the summer. 

The Minister for Levelling Up Jacob Young 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."

The news comes as the government publishes its response to a technical consultation today, setting out the details to help councils to enact the policy. The new law will shortly be laid in Parliament with the first auctions expected to take place expected to take place in September this year and the first new unit occupied and open to the public in October.

A new pilot programme helping to accelerate regeneration on England’s struggling high streets will also give 10 areas a share of £5 million to breathe new life and greenery onto their high streets - planting new trees, green walls and green pocket spaces and improving adjacent parks. The 10 local authorities taking part in the programme will receive £500,000 each to entice residents back to the shops, working in partnership with local people and community organisations to create bespoke plans.

This money from the government’s High Street Accelerators pilot programme will be awarded to five high streets in the North West, three in Yorkshire and the Humber, one in the West Midlands and one in the East of England. The pilot is helping councils most in need to make their high streets fit for the 21st century and could be rolled out more widely in England if successful.

Regenerating our high streets and cracking down on anti-social behaviour is at the heart of the government’s levelling up agenda. Through these changes, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is breathing new life into once-bustling town centres – transforming them into vibrant places where people feel happy to shop, live, work and relax - and restoring local pride as we level up across the country.

The government committed to introducing High Street Rental Auctions and High Street Accelerators in its 2023 Anti-Social Behaviour Action Plan. This new high streets package complements the government’s significant levelling up package which currently totals over £15 billion to improve every part of the UK by 2030. This funding includes the £1.5 billion Long-Term Plan for Towns initiative – a UK-wide programme empowering residents in 75 towns to play a key role in developing their town’s future.

The government is also supporting the High Streets (Designation, Review and Improvement Plan) Bill which will ensure councils routinely develop and publish improvement plans for their high streets. This bill was recently introduced by Jack Brereton MP and will have its second reading in the House of Lords on Friday 17 May. It will support the government’s wider strategy to support high streets and town centres to thrive.

From: Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and Jacob Young MP