NEW powers that would allow compulsory retail auctions to rent empty shops have been backed by the deputy council leader.

There have been reports that the Government will bring forward plans relating to units that are empty for more than six months.

Councillor Philip Broadhead, BCP Council portfolio holder for development, growth and regeneration, said this would be a "vital tool in our arsenal" to secure the future of town centres across the conurbation.

The subject of empty units was raised during public questions at a local authority full council meeting on April 26.

Ian Lawrence, of Bournemouth community group Lowther and Milton Homewatch, said the council should "better utilise" vacant shops and offices for housing.

Mr Lawrence said this would avoid enormous carbon costs, levelling of sites and rebuilding.

Councillor Broadhead said he only partly agreed that empty units should be used for housing.

"Firstly, because we also need family homes, and not only apartments," said Cllr Broadhead.

"Town centre locations are simply not suitable for that type of accommodation.

"And secondly, we need to foster the future of our town centres for new retail and commercial offerings, not throw them under the bus forever.

"Using offices blocks for housing works sometimes, but not all the time. And conversion from retail shop frontage to accommodation should, in my view, only be allowed if we are absolutely certain that that retail will not return which is not what we're seeing."

Bournemouth Echo: Councillor Philip BroadheadCouncillor Philip Broadhead

The senior Conservative councillor said many high streets in the conurbation were "bustling", with fewer vacancies than in decades.

Meanwhile, he said "rapid change" in the core town centres in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, was seeing "new, improved offerings coming through".

He added: "Furthermore, I understand that the government as part of their new measures in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill in the forthcoming Queen's Speech are bringing forward new powers for local authorities to directly intervene in shops that have been empty for more than six months, and undertake a compulsory retail auction of the unit.

"This will be yet another vital tool in our arsenal to secure the new futures of our town centres whilst making sure that we are providing housing and the right type of housing too."

It has been reported that the Government's plan would see local authorities given a power to force landlords to rent out commercial property on high streets through a compulsory rental auction.

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