New measures to revitalise high streets including tougher enforcement powers for councils and unlimited fines for irresponsible landlords.

Local people and businesses will be helped to take control of empty shops blighting high streets, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Michael Gove has announced today, as part of plans to revitalise high streets and tackle anti-social behaviour.

Councils will be armed with new powers through High Street Rental Auctions to take control quickly of empty buildings, giving communities and local businesses the opportunity to bid for the chance to rent shops.

High Street Rental Auctions will breathe new life into boarded-up shops and ensure high streets do not fall into disrepair, whilst giving more opportunities for local businesses to expand and thrive.

The Anti-Social Behaviour Action Plan, published today, will make £2 million available to help communities and local businesses take control of these properties by covering the cost of refurbishing properties, the auction and council fees. Bringing pride of place back to areas is not only key to tackling anti-social behaviour but is also a key part of the government’s plan to level up across the country.

Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove said:

Too many high streets which were once the beating hearts of our communities have fallen into disrepair and are now blighted by boarded-up shops, broken windows and anti-social behaviour.

We are putting this right through our Anti-Social Behaviour Action Plan which will give communities the power to breathe new life into their high street, ensuring that empty shops can be rented out to local people and community groups.

This is all part of the government’s mission to level up across the country and restore pride in our communities.

Research shows that anti-social behaviour is the main reason people do not feel safe in their local area and seeing empty shops and buildings adds further to the sense of community decline.

But a review of current complex leasing laws – led by the Law Commission – will further remove barriers to accessing property and help small businesses to occupy properties quicker and reduce the number of empty shops on high streets, boost the local economy and bring more jobs to areas.

Up to 172,000 commercial properties are empty across the UK and 8 in 10 of these have been vacant for more than two years. The North East and West Midlands have the most shuttered shops, with over 15% properties empty, resulting in hollowed out town centres.

Other measures include:

  • Cracking down on those that exploit vulnerable people by taking control of their property for criminal activity, or
    ‘cuckooing’, by consulting on making it a criminal offence
  • Unlimited fines for irresponsible landlords and building owners who allow their properties to fall into disrepair and for anti-social behaviour to thrive
  • Giving councils more powers to move in quickly when houses are left vacant – cutting the timeframe from when they can act from two years of a building being empty to six months

A new £2.5 million High Street Accelerator programme will empower and incentivise local people to work in partnership to develop a long-term vision for revitalising high streets so they are fit for purpose. Accelerators will bring together residents, businesses, and community organisations to develop and deliver a long-term vision to tackle the causes of persistent vacancy on the high street. This will initially run in up to 10 pilot areas with more details set out in due course

Making sure high streets are designed with safety and deterring anti-social behaviour in mind is key – a consultation will explore whether the National Planning Policy Framework should consider measures such as CCTV and extra lighting.

This builds on the work that is already being done to level up, revitalise communities, refresh town centres and support local jobs and businesses by investing: £2.35 billion across 101 Towns Deals, £830m across 72 successful Future High Streets Fund bids, and £3.8 billion via the Levelling Up Fund to regenerate town centres and high streets.

Notes to editors:

Work already being done to revitalise high streets includes:

  • Bringing empty properties back into use in Goole Town Centre through the £4 million Towns Deal
  • Transforming Leyland Town Centre with £16 million from the Towns Deal to regenerate buildings and bring empty shops back into use
  • Creating space for up to 50 new businesses at the Merseyway Shopping Centre in Stockport with £14 million through the Future High Streets Fund
  • Future proofing Whitechapel Road, at the heart of Tower Hamlets with £9 million from the Levelling Up Fund to support the economy
  • Creating new shop fronts, pavements and benches with £5 million from the Levelling Up Fund to regenerate the Glengormley and Antrim town centres

Further quotes :

Alex Schlagman, Founding Partner, said: is encouraged to see this clear focus and new funding from central government to help end the vacancy crisis facing thousands of high streets across the U.K.

High vacancy rates create a dangerous vicious cycle; reducing the incentives for both consumers to visit and businesses to trade from a local high street or shopping centre. How quickly and sustainably we repopulate vacant space will be a key driver of success for the high street economy.

We involve and empower members of the local community in all of our new vacancy solutions so the announcement of a dedicated ‘High Street Accelerator’ programme that supports these ambitions is timely and welcomed.

Tim Davies-Pugh, CEO of Power to Change said:

At Power to Change, Social Investment Business, Architectural Heritage Fund and Platform Places, we know the central role that communities will play in the future high street. Across the country, we are all supporting the growth of this model in different ways.

The measures announced today look set to enable more community presence in, and say over, the future of their town centres. This is to be applauded. We look forward to sharing our collective experience with government to ensure these policies are a success.

Published 27 March 2023