Plans to revive struggling town centers with a ‘café culture’ will be a key blueprint of the Queen’s Speech as Boris Johnson attempts to reset his government following damaging local election results. The Prime Minister said the plans would rid the main streets of “abandoned storefronts” and restore neighborhood pride, with councils given additional powers to force landlords to let empty shops.
Measures will include the possibility of making sidewalk cafes that have sprung up during the Covid-19 pandemic a permanent part of the downtown landscape. The Queen’s Speech, delivered in Parliament on Tuesday, will be used by Mr Johnson to try to show his administration is focused on people’s concerns over issues such as the rising cost of living following a series of deadly local elections influenced by rowdy partygate and the behavior of Tory MPs.
As part of the Leveling and Regeneration Bill’s measures to revive England’s high streets, councils will have the power to take control of buildings for the benefit of their communities. Compulsory rental auctions will allow owners to make available to potential tenants businesses that have been vacant for more than a year.
Authorities will also be given increased powers to use compulsory purchase orders to deliver housing, regeneration programs and infrastructure.
Mr Johnson said: ‘High streets across the country have long been marred by abandoned shop windows as they have been neglected, depriving local areas of opportunity. We are fixing this by putting power back in the hands of local leaders and the community so our cities can be rejuvenated, improving opportunity and restoring neighborhood pride.
Officials pointed to figures from the British Retail Consortium showing around one in seven stores were vacant, with up to a fifth empty in the North East. Stores have been hit by high rental costs and business rates and a drop in demand as consumers move online, a trend exacerbated by the pandemic.
Upgrading Secretary Michael Gove said: “By allowing local communities to rent out shops that have stood empty for a year or more, we will end the scourge of shuttered shops that has destroyed some of our great towns in across the country for far too long.”
Measures to make a continental-style café culture a permanent feature of English towns and cities will also feature in government plans. During the pandemic, restaurants, pubs and bars have been granted temporary powers to serve customers on the sidewalks.
Through new legislation, these powers will be made permanent to increase business capacity in hopes of boosting local economies. The Queen’s Speech is not expected to include proposed plans to ban the import of fur and foie gras.
The Times newspaper reported that the measure was dropped after Cabinet critics warned it was “fundamentally unconservative”. The Animals Abroad Bill is expected to include a ban on the trade in hunting trophies and the sale and promotion of cruel animal travel experiences.
On Saturday, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said the Queen’s Speech package would “demonstrate to the nation that the second half of this Parliament is about fixing the economy, recovering from Covid, backlog of the NHS and national security”. Other measures expected in the package include a Brexit Freedoms Bill to facilitate the scrapping of old EU laws and a Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act.