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Call for new fund to support community buyouts of empty high street properties


Power to Change is calling for a new £350million High Street Buyout Fund to help local communities secure property on the high street and support a transition to a diversified high street where the community is in the driving seat.

The fund should be designed to act quickly to purchase key empty buildings, holding them until communities have the funds and structure to run the building for the long-term. Power to Change is calling on government to invest £100million of Levelling Up Fund money to help capitalise it.

It says a High Street Buyout Fund would be ‘a transformational measure to help communities purchase assets on the high street, with the potential to transform over 200 neglected high street properties across the country by leveraging £250mn of private and commercial and social investment against a £100mn government grant.’

Nick Plumb, Policy Manager at Power to Change said:

“High streets were once the beating hearts of our local communities, but the growth of out-of-town retail; the rise of megastores; a seismic shift towards online shopping; and more recently a cost-of-living crisis has left them vulnerable. This report makes clear what we know: that greater community ownership and involvement in the high street will push back against these worrying trends. A High Street Buyout Fund will help local people overcome the barriers they face, such as access to money at speed, in taking ownership of their high streets. We need this radical action now to ensure our much-loved community spaces survive and thrive.”

The call follows the release of a report, Community businesses and high streets: ‘taking back’ and leading forward. From the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University and Power to Change, it shows that community businesses are contributing to high street regeneration, with the potential to go even further.

The research found that community businesses:

Support new and emerging forms of economic activitySlow down and prevent gentrificationCreate clusters of activity supporting other businessesCreate conditions that support high street revitalisationSupport the development of policy and funding to better support high streets

Financially, it found, community-owned spaces contribute £220mn to the UK economy, with 56p of every £1 they spend staying in the local economy, compared with 40p for large private sector firms. Where there is community ownership on a high street, vacancy rates are also reduced, while these spaces provide affordable, appropriate services and products for the community.

Other recent research by Power to Change with the Local Data Company found that 16% of shops on Britain’s high streets stand empty, while one in every twenty vacant units have been so for more than three years.

The report includes recommendations for government, as well as local authorities, property owners and agents, community businesses and funders.

For government, the report recommends that it:

Prioritises use value over land value in regeneration schemesIncentivises partnership rather than competition – long term finance, awarded at least in part on the depth of collaboration involved, needs to become the normSupports revenue spending as well as capital programmes – investing in places begins with investing in peopleStarts to address long-term challenges such as local government finance and property law –these cannot be repaired on an ad-hoc and piecemeal basis

Dr Julian Dobson, Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research and author of the report, said:

“Many aspects of the systems that influence the vitality of high streets and town centres are dysfunctional and not amenable to short-term solutions. They will require political choices with wide-ranging impacts. This report instead demonstrates that many opportunities and challenges that are available within the system that exists now, and lays bare the importance of community businesses in making the most of them.”

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