EMPTY high street shop units should be filled rapidly using new powers to force landlords to fill their shop spaces, says one BCP councillor

The outgoing council leader, Phil Broadhead, is calling for the local rollout of a national scheme to incentivise landlords to fill empty shop units.

The Tory councillor believes it is “impossible to ignore” the issue across Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole.

As part of last year’s Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, 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.

In December last year, the Echo recorded that around 25 per cent of shops units in parts of Bournemouth town centre were empty.

Bournemouth Echo: Poole High StreetPoole High Street

Cllr Broadhead said: “Whilst some of our high streets are buzzing, particularly those district centres which have really found new life post-Covid, it’s impossible to ignore the hyper-rapid change of some of our core high streets such as parts of Bournemouth and Poole as a result of the major brands moving away from having a high street presence.

“As these shops are all privately owned, our powers as a council to intervene have been limited.

“However, forthcoming new powers will enable us to hold compulsory high street auctions for many of those empty units – which will force these shops to be filled and give new opportunities for those interested in renting them to enter the high street.”

The powers would allow the council to hold a compulsory rental auction for units which have been empty for 12 months in a 24-month period.

Bournemouth Echo: Cllr Phil Broadhead outside the former New Look in Bournemouth town centreCllr Phil Broadhead outside the former New Look in Bournemouth town centre

However, due to the volume of units, the council previously asked the Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) to compile priority lists of the unoccupied shops.

The Bill also states the auction process will not always be a case of ‘highest bidder wins’, rather councils may find a lower bidder as preferable due to the bidder being local, offering a diverse business, or a community offering.

Cllr Broadhead added: “These empty shops [would] be filled as soon as possible and new life will be breathed into our high streets.”


Christina Pengelly, manager of Christchurch BID, felt the town could benefit from the legislation.

She said: “The introduction could be advantageous for several long-term vacant shops in Bargates and the High Street.

Bournemouth Echo: Christchurch High StreetChristchurch High Street

“One prime example is The Arcade, which has two empty units that have been vacant for an extended period, despite being near desirable real estate, such as Pizza Express and Arcado Lounge.

“Given that other nearby units have been quickly taken up before being marketed, it highlights Christchurch’s typically competitive market, especially for smaller units suited to independent businesses.

“The legislation could unlock the potential for a few persistently vacant units in the area, and it will be interesting to see how the BID can help attract new businesses.”

A national consultation on the plans will end on June 23. Visit gov.uk/government/consultations/high-street-rental-auctions for more information.

The Daily Echo has been speaking to residents, shopkeepers, councillors and more concerning the state of the high street.
Scores of shops have closed for good, meanwhile, big-name retailers have moved elsewhere.
Bournemouth has been described as the jewel of the south coast, but what does the future hold?
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