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Councils get powers to breathe new life into high streets

10 May 2022

The Levelling up and Regeneration Bill, announced in today's Queen's speech, will give local leaders new powers to take control of empty shops and derelict buildings in order to regenerate high streets and town centres across the UK.

Councils are to be given greater powers to take control of empty buildings for the benefit of their communities, transforming boarded up shops or derelict buildings into thriving businesses, shared community spaces or housing.

The number of empty shops has increased to one in seven, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC), rising to one in five in the north east. The new legislation introduces Compulsory Rental Auctions, allowing prospective tenants to bid for shops that have been vacant for over a year and put them to good use.

Councils will also be given greater powers to drive regeneration through Compulsory Purchase Orders. These allow authorities, including local public bodies, to acquire buildings for public benefit, without needing the consent of the owner. This may include acquiring land for social housing or other regeneration projects.

Prime minister Boris 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."

The government has also introduced new legislation that will permanently scrap pavement licensing red-tape, allowing businesses to serve food al fresco and attract diners all year round. During the pandemic, restaurants, pubs and bars were granted temporary powers to serve guests on pavements. Now, these powers will be made permanent to "boost local economies and inject life into local communities".

It comes as new research has found that Brits prefer shopping in-store to buying online. A poll of 2,000 UK consumers by Emarsys has found that 47% prefer bricks-and-mortar retail to any other channel, with more than twice as many preferring it to shopping via a mobile phone (21%) or via computers (15%).

The impact of workers returning to the office also looks set to boost footfall in shops and cafes on the high street. In fact, a new survey by Real Business Rescue has found that 89% of professionals view returning to the office as an opportunity to support the high street and local businesses. On average, workers plan on spending about half their working week in the office; over two-fifths (41%) say they will be shopping locally during their lunch break.

Written by Rachel Miller.

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