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Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities written question – answered on 16th June 2022.

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Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

To ask the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, with reference to provisions contained in the Levelling-Up and Regeneration Bill which would allow rental auction of vacant high street units, whether the proposals will enable large unoccupied units to be broken up and converted into small business units for auction.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

To ask the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, with reference to the rental auction of vacant high street units, if he will take steps to prioritise rentals for (a) business accelerators, (b) a social business hub and (c) any other specific purpose.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

To ask the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, with reference to provisions contained in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill which would allow the rental auction of vacant high street units, whether he has held discussions with public sector organisations about potentially occupying such units.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

To ask the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, with reference to provisions contained in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill on rental auction of vacant high street units, if a unit is occupied as a result of a rental auction under those provisions and the landlord finds a new commercial tenant for that unit, how much notice the landlord would be required to give for the current tenant or tenants to relocate their business.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

To ask the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, with reference to provisions contained in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill on the rental auction of vacant high street units, whether rent for such units would be payable directly to the owner of the premises or to the local authority as the auctioning body.

Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

On Wednesday 11 May the Department introduced the Levelling Up & Regeneration Bill (LURB) into Parliament. This new legislation will play an important role in reviving our high streets by introducing High Street Rental Auctions (HSRAs). HSRAs will empower places to tackle decline by bringing vacant units back into use and will seek to increase cooperation between landlords and local authorities, and to make town centre tenancies more accessible and affordable for tenants, including SMEs, local businesses and community groups.

The measure will focus on all commercial property in town centres and on high streets, for the purpose of incentivising commercial uses, and will exclude residential, industrial and warehousing. It is short-term measure in which landlords will be receiving rents and service charges throughout the lease period and will retain their property, including rights to forfeiture.

A standardised lease will be developed and used to ensure consistency and fairness, and the auction process will include safeguards for landlords to be able to feed into the process. There are some important processes and procedures that we need to develop in tandem with the passage of legislation, including how the auction process itself will run, how landlords can input into the terms of the standardised lease including any break clauses. We will also consider how larger unoccupied units can be rented out and more crucially how we can ensure HSRAs are accessible to start-ups, community groups and local businesses.

Throughout this process we have spoken to stakeholders (landlords, tenants, local authorities, community organisations) and reviewed available data at regular intervals. We will continue to work with the industry during bill passage to ensure that any conditions are appropriate for the parties and the market more broadly. This engagement will help inform secondary legislation.

By introducing this measure, Government is continuing to empower councils to take a proactive and ambitious approach to placemaking, supporting them to feel more confident in how they approach the challenges of vacant property on the high street. Together with the other tools available to local authorities, this will help create attractive and lively high streets, with increased footfall and activity which attracts people and businesses, increases pride in place and avoids the long-term presence of vacancies.

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