If Labour wins the next General Election, councils will be able to take control of boarded-up high street shops and let start-ups, co-ops and community projects take them over.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn announced the plans over the weekend during a trip to Bolton and said it would ‘revive Britain’s struggling high streets.’
The powers would apply to units that have been empty for over 12 months but would not mean that councils take ownership of the properties or force through compulsory purchase orders. Instead, a council would be able to choose who occupies the unit on a not-for-profit basis.
There are an estimated 29,000 physical retail units that have been empty for over 12 months and in 2018, an average of 14 high street stores closed a day.
Jeremy Corbyn said: ‘Boarded up shops are a symptom of economic decay under the Conservatives and a sorry symbol of the malign neglect so many communities have suffered.
‘Labour has a radical plan to revive Britain’s struggling high streets by turning the blight of empty shops into the heart of the high street, with thousands of new businesses and projects getting the chance to fulfil their potential.’
Last year, Labour produced a ‘five-point plan’ to help ailing high streets, which included measures such as a register of landlords, an overhaul of the business rates system, and free bus travel for the under 25s.
Responding to Labour’s plans, Communities minister Jake Berry said a Labour government would: ‘Tax small businesses and scare off the investment needed to help our high streets.’
‘Through our Open Doors Scheme we’re also helping to diversify high streets by revamping vacant properties, providing free spaces for community groups in town centres across England.’
NewStart recently reported on the Open Doors scheme, which has now begun and sees five empty retail units in Stoke-on-Trent, Bradford, Rochford, Kettering and Slough handed over to community groups for 12 months. Read the story here.
Last month, the government released its shortlist of towns which will progress to the next stage of bidding for its £675m Future High Streets Fund (FHSF).
The fund aims to support local authorities’ plans to revitalise their town centres through initiatives from improving transport links to creating new homes from old retail units.