Press release

New levelling up powers to fill empty shops across England

New powers will come into effect this summer to help communities take back control of their high streets and revive empty shops to accelerate regeneration.

This was published under the 2022 to 2024 Sunak Conservative government

New powers for communities to regenerate high streets and fill empty shops will be in force by the summer, the government has announced today (14 May 2024).

High Street Rental Auctions, a new local authority power to combat high street vacancy, will allow local leaders who know their area best to take control of empty properties blighting their high streets and rent them out to local businesses that want to use them.

The new powers will help councils level up their high streets and tackle wide-ranging issues stemming from prolonged high street emptiness exacerbated by the pandemic, such as low footfall which leads to struggling businesses, increased unemployment and anti-social behaviour.

Where a high street shop has been empty for over a year, High Street Rental Auctions will allow local leaders to step in and auction off a rental lease for up to 5 years. Auctions will take place with no reserve price, giving local businesses and community groups the opportunity to occupy space on the high street at a competitive market rate.

To help get High Street Rental Auctions up and running as soon as possible, the government is launching a new ‘trailblazer’ programme so it can work with a number of communities who are keen to lead the way in quickly implementing the new powers. There will also be a £2 million support pot to help them and other local authorities to get started across the summer. 

Minister for Levelling Up Jacob Young said:

We want to bring high streets back to life and these new levelling up powers will help do just that.

A lively high street brings an irreplaceable community spirit – one that is unique to its own area – along with new jobs and opportunities for local people.

These new powers will enable local communities to take back control, backed by over £15 billion of levelling up funding which is transforming towns and left-behind communities across the UK.

The news comes as the government publishes its response to a technical consultation today, setting out the details to help councils to enact the policy. The new law will shortly be laid in Parliament with the first auctions expected to take place expected to take place in September this year and the first new unit occupied and open to the public in October.

A new pilot programme helping to accelerate regeneration on England’s struggling high streets will also give 10 areas a share of £5 million to breathe new life and greenery onto their high streets – planting new trees, green walls and green pocket spaces and improving adjacent parks. The 10 local authorities taking part in the programme will receive £500,000 each to entice residents back to the shops, working in partnership with local people and community organisations to create bespoke plans.

This money from the government’s High Street Accelerators pilot programme will be awarded to 5 high streets in the North West, 3 in Yorkshire and the Humber, 1 in the West Midlands and 1 in the East of England. The pilot is helping councils most in need to make their high streets fit for the 21st century and could be rolled out more widely in England if successful.

Regenerating our high streets and cracking down on anti-social behaviour is at the heart of the government’s levelling up agenda. Through these changes, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is breathing new life into once-bustling town centres – transforming them into vibrant places where people feel happy to shop, live, work and relax – and restoring local pride as we level up across the country.

The government committed to introducing High Street Rental Auctions and High Street Accelerators in its 2023 Anti-Social Behaviour Action Plan. This new high streets package complements the government’s significant levelling up package which currently totals over £15 billion to improve every part of the UK by 2030. This funding includes the £1.5 billion Long-Term Plan for Towns initiative – a UK-wide programme empowering residents in 75 towns to play a key role in developing their town’s future.

The government is also supporting the High Streets (Designation, Review and Improvement Plan) Bill which will ensure councils routinely develop and publish improvement plans for their high streets. This bill was recently introduced by Jack Brereton MP and will have its second reading in the House of Lords on Friday 17 May. It will support the government’s wider strategy to support high streets and town centres to thrive.

Further information

See the government’s response to the High Street Rental Auctions technical consultation.

See the Minister for Levelling Up’s written statement.

The High Street Rental Auctions policy was brought forward as part of the government’s Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023 which received royal assent in October 2023.

Areas receiving funding as part of the High Street Accelerators pilot programme:   

  • Abingdon Street and Queen Street in Blackpool – North West
  • Union Street and Yorkshire Street in Oldham Town Centre – North West
  • Queen Street with Blackburn Road and Church Street in Great Harwood Town Centre in Hyndburn – North West
  • Hyde Town Centre in Tameside – North West
  • King William Street in Blackburn Town Centre in Blackburn with Darwen – North West
  • Stoke Town Centre in Stoke-on-Trent – West Midlands
  • Scunthorpe High Street in North Lincolnshire – Yorkshire and the Humber
  • The Stepney area of Beverley Road in Hull – Yorkshire and the Humber
  • Grimsby Town Centre in North East Lincolnshire – Yorkshire and the Humber
  • Dovercourt Town Centre in Tendring – East of England

More background on high streets:

Following COVID-19 and its acceleration of changes in the behaviour of shoppers, for example, a greater uptake of online retail; vacancy is an issue felt on many high streets.

Vacancy ruins the look and feel of an area – boarded-up empty shops often become targets for vandalism, graffiti and anti-social behaviour. Taken together, the economic and physical decline caused by high street vacancy entrenches economic underperformance and undermines pride in place – with more derelict high street shops and disused town centre spaces.

Data from the Local Data Company found that nationally, in the first quarter of 2023, 1 in every 7 high-street shops were closed. Furthermore, in 2021 figures from Whythawk, the open data specialists, suggested that over 8 in 10 of these vacant properties have been empty for more than 2 years, and over 1 in 5 have been empty for more than 4 years.

Tackling this problem by regenerating our high streets and cracking down on this anti-social behaviour is therefore at the heart of the government’s levelling up agenda. We want to breathe new life into once-bustling town centres and transform them into vibrant places where people once again want to shop, live, work and relax – restoring local pride as we level up across the country.

As part of the Anti-Social Behaviour Action Plan (March 23), we committed to:

  • tackling empty shops and properties by giving local businesses, entrepreneurs, and communities the chance to take over vacant properties through High Street Rental Auctions and making our high streets fit for the 21st century with new High Street Accelerators
  • improving access to green spaces, by supporting communities to restore their parks and green spaces through an up to £5 million boost to the areas most in need

We know that having access to parks and green spaces is important to people. More than 9 in 10 people say parks and green spaces are important to creating a sense of pride in place. And being able to spend time in your local park can have significant health benefits as well as providing a space for people to meet, play, exercise and socialise. See Improving access to greenspace: 2020 review (PDF, 1.18 MB).

Updates to this page

Published 14 May 2024