The Labour Party has announced plans to give councils the power to reopen abandoned shops to revive Britain’s struggling high streets.
With figures from the British Retail Consortium confirming that over 10% of town centre shops are empty, the party aims to enable councils to give empty high street shops to start-ups, co-operative businesses and community projects.
The measure would apply to property left vacant for 12 months. Labour says the policy would have no impact on the ownership of the property. Local authorities in England and Wales can currently use empty dwelling management orders as a legal device to put an unoccupied property back into use as housing. Labour would adopt a similar approach to empty high street properties, enabling councils to take over the management of the properties. They will then be able to rent it out to co-ops and community projects for free or at reduced rates.
The announcement builds on Labour’s Labour’s five-point plan for Britain’s high streets. As part of this, the Labour Party would also set up a register of landlords of empty properties.
Announcing the policy while visiting a high street in Bolton on 17 August, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “Boarded up shops are a symptom of economic decay under the Conservatives and a sorry symbol of the malign neglect so many communities have suffered.
“Once thriving high streets are becoming ghost streets. Labour has a radical plan to revive Britain’s struggling high streets by turning the blight of empty shops into the heart of the high street, with thousands of new businesses and projects getting the chance to fulfil their potential.”
Shadow secretary of state for communities and local government, Andrew Gwynne MP, said: “Under this government, our high streets have suffered a retail apocalypse. High street closures are at a historic high, leaving too many of our once thriving towns abandoned and awash with boarded up shop fronts.
“Labour’s radical plan will turn around the mess that the Tories have created and will give local authorities the power to make our high streets the pride of our communities that they once were.”
Commenting on Labour’s announcement, Co-op Party policy officer Anna Birley said: “High streets are the beating heart of local economies, and we welcome Labour’s plans. When big chains like BHS go into administration, employees should be given support to buyout the business – saving shops on our high streets and giving those workers a say and a stake in their workplaces.”