13:29 8 May 2022
Plans to force landlords to let empty shops to revive struggling high streets have met with a mixed response from business leaders in North Norfolk.
The proposal, which would give councils additional powers to take control of buildings for the benefit of their communities, will be a centerpiece of the Queen’s Speech on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the move would rid the main streets of “abandoned storefronts” and restore neighborhood pride.
John Roseby of the Experience Sheringham business group described it as “not a bad idea” which could help make councils more accountable to their town centres.
Mr Roseby said: “To be honest, it’s hard to imagine landlords deliberately keeping their properties vacant. I think if a store is lettable it tends to sell out quite quickly.
“But sometimes a landlord or agent may expect unrealistic rent, so that could be a way to prevent that from happening.”
Iain Wilson, of business group Love Holt, said that although Holt had a bustling centre, other main streets were struggling for a number of reasons, and the mere introduction of a new rule or two was little likely to revive them.
Mr Wilson said the main reason for the decline of high streets was the rise of internet shopping, and the new measures were unlikely to solve that problem.
He said: “As long as it’s cheaper to run a business online, there will be a problem on the high streets.”
Mr Wilson said owners of heritage-listed commercial units avoid paying rates, which could lead to longer vacancies than for other units.
He added that while there was nothing wrong with “charity shops”, town centers needed to maintain a good shopping mix in order to remain vibrant.
Under plans, mandatory rental auctions would ensure that landlords make vacant stores available to potential tenants for more than a year.
Authorities will also be given increased powers to use compulsory purchase orders to deliver housing, regeneration programs and infrastructure.
Other measures will include the possibility of making sidewalk cafes that have sprung up during the Covid-19 pandemic a permanent part of downtown landscapes.