Bolton Council’s Labour group are supporting proposals announced by Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds for a new ‘empty shops order’ to revive high streets by allowing councils such as Bolton to take over empty shops and bring them back into use.
Labour is also challenging new rules from the government that are due to come into force this August which will allow vacant commercial premises to be quickly converted into new homes under fast-track regulation.
Labour believes that this will see town centres sold off to the highest bidder for poor quality housing without planning permission. Under Labours alternative policy, local authorities would instead be allowed to 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 to ensure that premises are used either for shopping, small businesses or other enterprises whilst being permitted to charge rent and, after recouping the cost of carrying out any improvements, that rent would then pass to the property owner.
Cllr. Richard Silvester, Bolton Council’s Labour spokesperson on strategic planning said, “high streets should be the heart of local communities. They should be places that people have pride in. Under Labour’s policy, Bolton Council would first work with the owner of an empty shop, to restore it to use but, if that fails, take it over and carry out any necessary works. This would help to 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.”
Deputy Leader of Bolton Council’s Labour group, Cllr. Akhtar Zaman said, “we are calling on the government to scrap their plans due to come into effect in August as a matter of urgency. To hand back power to local communities and give them a say in securing their high streets. We are not against a complete blanket ban on converting shops into homes and there will be circumstances where that’s the right thing to do but only with the consent of local people, and only where they can be guaranteed that where new homes are built, they are to the highest possible standard and that they contribute to the local community through shared resources and affordable housing”.
Labour is also calling for the Government to use its review of business rates to ensure reforms help high street stores compete with online retailers.