High Street Rental Auctions Technical Consultation

Closes 23 Jun 2023


Prolonged vacancy of shops and buildings is a blight on our high streets. There will always be some vacancy as a sign of natural business churn and high street units that are in the process of being filled in 2019, Glide found that approximately 172,000 commercial properties were vacant. In 2021, however, figures from Whythawk, the open data specialists, suggested that over 8 in 10 of these vacant properties have been empty for more than two years, and over 1 in 5 have been empty for more than four years.

Whilst government has taken successful action, such as the introduction of Use Class E to enable more flexible use of existing buildings through its 2020 reforms and has resultingly reduced vacancy in each of the last five quarters, vacancy remains high in many areas. High vacancy rates significantly impact a place’s economic performance. They strip economic opportunity from towns and high streets. They directly and negatively affect footfall, risking businesses shutting down, more jobs being lost, people moving away from high streets, and lower economic activity in the heart of communities.

Wider regional economic underperformance is also clearly linked with high vacancy rates. Some of the worst affected areas include Manchester, North-East Lincolnshire, Luton, and East Staffordshire. In these regions, the vacancy rate ranges from 20% to as high as 28%. Unemployment rates are also higher than the national average: in Manchester, the unemployment rate as of September 2022 is 6.7%, while in Luton, it is 4.7% – well above the national average of 3.8% in 2022. Moreover, between 42% to 56% of vacancies in these regions have been vacant for more than four years.

Vacancy also 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.

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.

In the Build Back Better High Streets Strategy, published in July 2021, and the Levelling Up White Paper, published in February 2022, we announced our intention to explore what policy solutions could address empty shops and offices and to give local authorities the power to tackle vacancy rates.

As part of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, introduced to Parliament on 11 May 2022, the Government is introducing High Street Rental Auctions, a new power for local authorities to require landlords to rent out persistently vacant commercial properties to new tenants, such as local businesses or community groups. More detail on the policy proposal can be found in the ‘High Street Rental Auctions: Delivery Principles’ section and at Annex A of the High Street Rental Auctions consultation document.