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'Ill-Thought-Through’ UK Government Plans To Force Landlords To Rent Out Empty Shops Condemned

Vacant shops could be bought back to life under government plans.

The UK government plans to force landlords to rent out empty retail units that have been left vacant for more than six months under plans to revitalise the high street.

New laws are mooted to be introduced to Parliament later this year by Levelling Up minister Michael Gove, under plans which would force landlords to rent empty shops, which have soared in number since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Figures supplied by the British Retail Consortium have found that 1 in 7, or approximately 14%, of shops are currently lying empty.

According to the Daily Mail the plans under consideration by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities will allow councils to intervene and compel landlords to rent out vacant shops via 'auctions' to fill the properties. This could allow community groups to rent spaces cheaply, the paper said. 

"The government’s mission to level up will breathe new life into these great towns and end the scourge of boarded up shops sucking the soul out of once bustling high streets,” an unnamed government source told the Mail.

“Empty premises are a blight and we share the objective of tackling this as part of revitalising our high streets and town centres,” British Property Federation chief executive Melanie Leech said. “However, whilst we await full details, the government’s proposal seems ill-thought through and fails to properly understand and address the causes of these vacant units.”

Leech called for Town Centre Investment Zones to tackle the root causes of vacant premises, which could be left empty for a variety of reasons such as disrepair, adding that many landlords are already offering low or zero rents to keep tenants in their premises.

“To tackle the complexity of these issues and ensure we continue to get the investment we need in the bricks-and-mortar of our town centres, we need more creative thinking that will see genuine public-private partnerships,” Leech added. “These zones would provide local stakeholders with policy powers and tax incentives following the creation of a dedicated plan for high street regeneration that aligns interests.”

Any plans to force landlords to rent out properties will need to be passed into law by Parliament. The proposals will be introduced in the Queen’s Speech later this year.

“Revitalising our high streets is a fundamental part of our mission to level up across the country," the DLUHC said in a statement. “Further details on our legislative plans will be set out in due course.”

The government has played an increasingly interventionist role in the relationship between landlords and tenants in the last few years. During the pandemic landlords were prohibited from evicting tenants that had not paid rent.