This week on Building Belonging, Will Tanner and The Cares Family’s Alex Smith will speak to Emmanuel Akpan-Inwang, Director of Lighthouse, a charity that transforms the lives of children in care – about where the idea came from, their work, and plans for the future.
A week rarely passes without yet more bad news for the high street. Over the last decade dozens of big name retailers have vanished from our town centres, and high streets in many parts of the UK increasingly resemble ghost towns.
The causes of high street decline are economic, but they have serious social and political implications. The prosperity of the local high street is closely linked to civic pride and politicians of all stripes have promised to turn things around for struggling left-behind towns across the country.
It is absolutely vital that they do this. Successive Onward focus groups reveal how strongly people feel about the decline of their local high street and evidence shows that vacancy is correlated with lower civic pride and depressed economic value.
Importantly, high street vacancy rates are closely linked to who owns the units. Vacancy rates in shops owned by financial institutions are nearly ten times higher than those owned by individuals, for example, and one in ten shops owned by overseas owners are vacant.
The Government recognises the importance of this issue and, to its credit, has come up with a plan to force landlords of long-term vacant shops to auction off a temporary lease to bring them back into use. SMEs, charities and other community groups could theoretically be able to take over a high street shop with a bid as low as £1 a month.
This is the right move. Onward’s new analysis, released yesterday, estimates that this policy could quickly bring almost 58,000 vacant units back into use, including tens of thousands in Northern England and the Midlands – key battlegrounds at the next election.
While work would still need to be done on tackling the underlying causes of high street struggles – lack of disposable income, changing spending habits, et cetera – bringing vacant high street units back into use via rental auctions would bring thousands of boarded up storefronts back into use and boost civic pride after years of decline.
Director of Onward
Technology minister Chris Philp unveiled the UK’s Digital Strategy – a plan to grow the economy and create more high-skilled, high wage jobs by cementing the UK as a global tech superpower. Link
The Department for Levelling Up has opened the second round of the £150 million Community Ownership Fund, expanding eligibility criteria to include more community groups. Link
The Prime Minister has announced an extension to the Right to Buy scheme, allowing 2.5 million tenants renting their homes from housing associations the right to buy them outright. Link