Labour is proposing a new law that would allow councils to take over empty shops and reopen them without consent from the property’s owners in a bid to revive the UK’s struggling High Streets.
The policy – being dubbed the “empty shops order” – would see councils work with owners to bring empty shops back into use after 12 months of vacancy.
If this is not successful then councils would have the power to “secure management rights, carry out works and then put the property to use without the consent of the owner”, with rent revenues being directed back to the owner.
The policy would likely see commercial properties being rented out at below market rates.
Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds will announce the policy this afternoon in a set-piece speech in the lead up to next week’s Budget.
She will also call for the government to bring forward the findings of its business rates review to provide relief to bricks and mortar businesses.
It comes after Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer made two policy announcements last week – a new British “recovery bond” and loans to 100,000 new businesses – in an attempt to craft the party’s economic direction under his leadership.
Dodds is expected to say: “The High Street goes to the heart of Labour’s vision to make Britain the best place to grow up and grow old in.
“However, the Conservatives have presided over a decade of decline in Britain’s high streets that has left our economy insecure and the foundations of our society weakened.
“Labour’s plan would help secure the future of the High Street. It would give local communities a proper stake in their town centres, support new businesses to open up on our high streets and help rebuild our economy post-pandemic.”
Bricks and mortar retail has been one of the sectors worst affected by Covid-19, with lockdowns and restrictions forcing more people to shop online than ever before.
The Centre for Retail Research says Covid-19 lockdown and restrictions helped contribute to the loss of 180,000 retail jobs last year alone.
Robert Colvile, director of the right-wing Centre for Policy Studies, said it was “welcome news that Labour is focusing on this area”.
“It’s important that any review of business rates focuses on helping retailers compete rather than punishing online firms,” he said.
“Likewise, bringing homes into those areas where there are too many empty shops is surely a positive.
“Rules already prevent shop-to-home changes without full planning permission in key shopping areas like main high streets, which this proposal seems unaware of.”