High streets and town centres remain one of the most important issues for local people, as the threat of vacant properties remain, community business can help find the solution to high street decline.
A new report from Power to Change looks at regions which have seen the biggest increase in rising and persistent vacancy rates. The report identifies the challenges facing high streets and sets out clear policy recommendations including a National Community-Led High Streets Programme and a High Street Buyout Fund, capitalised by an empty buildings tax so the next government can build community-powered high streets of the future.
New data produced for Power to Change by the Local Data Company shows the 100 towns experiencing the biggest rise in persistent vacancy rates. Since 2015, persistent vacancy rates have increased across Britain from 3.7% to 5.2% in 2023, with some regions faring worse than others. Stoke, Stevenage and Woking are examples of the towns that have seen the biggest increases in persistent vacancy rates. With almost half of the town centres on Power to Change’s High Streets Warning Lights falling into marginal constituencies, that will be ‘in play’ in the next general election, there is need for innovative policy that helps give high streets a new vision and purpose.
Persistent vacancy rates hotspots include:
- North East is experiencing the highest persistent vacancy rate of all Britain’s nations and regions at 8.4%.
- West Midlands has a persistent vacancy rate of 6.5%
- North West is experiencing a persistent vacancy rate at 6.9%.
- Wales follows the North East closely with a persistent vacancy rate of 7.7%.
As one of the most important issues for local people, current high street interventions need to be strengthened including through policy to help communities across the country reap the benefits of community ownership. Power to Change proposes new policies to support a transition away from our failing high street model, drawing on comparative analysis of international policies to help tackle high street vacancies.
Community ownership and community business can help find the solution to high street decline. Community businesses are already revitalising our high streets with community-owned spaces contributing £220m to the UK economy. Serving as an important ‘destination space’ which drives footfall to other local businesses and shifting local demand in more nimble ways by reimagining and breathing life back into empty spaces.
Tim Davies-Pugh, Chief Executive of Power to Change said: “With persistent vacancy rates on the rise, it’s clear that current interventions to reimagine our high streets do not go far enough. While these warning lights may seem bleak, we know that community businesses are key to the revival of the high street and are already making the changes needed to build town centres fit for the future.
It’s vital that new, innovative solutions like a National Community-Led High Streets Programme and a High Street Buyout Fund capitalised by an empty buildings tax are introduced, to give local communities the support they need to ensure the survival of their high streets. Together with government, business and local people, we can make community ownership a part of the solution for change, but action is needed now.”