Mixed reaction to Queen's Speech plan for high streets

A busy day on Sheringham's High Street. A new government plan is aimed at rejuvenating town centres across the UK.  

A busy day on Sheringham's High Street. A new government plan is aimed at rejuvenating town centres across the UK. - Credit: KAREN BETHELL

Plans to force landlords to rent out empty shops as a means of reviving struggling high streets have been met with a mixed response from north Norfolk business leaders. 

The proposal, which would see councils given extra powers to take control of buildings to benefit their communities, will be a centrepiece of Tuesday’s Queen's Speech.

Prime minister Boris Johnson said the move would rid high streets of "derelict shopfronts" and restore neighbourhood pride.

John Roseby, from the business group Experience Sheringham, described it as "not a bad idea" that could help make councils more responsible for their town centres.

Mr Roseby said: "To be honest it's hard to imagine landlords deliberately keeping their properties vacant. I think if a shop is lettable, it tends to get snapped up pretty quick.

John Roseby, Sheringham Chamber of Trade chairman.

John Roseby, Sheringham Chamber of Trade chairman. - Credit: Archant

"But sometimes a landlord or an agent may be holding out for an unrealistic rent, so this could be a way of stopping the happening." 

Iain Wilson, from the business group Love Holt, said that while Holt had a lively centre, other high streets were struggling due to a number of reasons, and merely introducing one or two new rules was unlikely to revive them. 

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Mr Wilson said the main reason high streets were declining was the rise of internet shopping, and the new measures were unlikely to address that. 

He said: "As long as it's cheaper to operate an online business there's going to be an issue on the high streets."

Iain Wilson.

Iain Wilson. - Credit: Archant

Mr Wilson said owners of heritage listed business units avoided paying rates, which could lead to longer vacancies than for other units. 

He added that while there was nothing wrong with "charity shops", town centres needed to maintain a good business mix in order to stay vibrant.  

Under the plans, compulsory rental auctions would ensure that landlords made shops that have been vacant for more than a year available to prospective tenants.

Authorities will also be given greater powers to use compulsory purchase orders to deliver housing, regeneration schemes and infrastructure.

Other measures will include the ability to make the pavement cafes which sprang up during the Covid-19 pandemic a permanent part of town centre landscapes.