Government announces new register for retail landlords

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This House of Fraser store closed down last September

The government says it will make it easier to find out who owns empty buildings on the High Street in a bid to revitalise the UK’s retail sector.

It said a new register would allow prospective tenants to quickly check ownership and speed up the letting process.

It follows research for BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours that found a confusing patchwork of ownership on High Streets.

Experts say this is putting retailers off investing in town centres.

The research by Estates Gazette (EG), a news and data portal, spanned 22 main shopping streets in 11 UK Cities.

It found nine different categories of ownership, ranging from small private companies to corporate giants, based in the UK and overseas.

Such fragmented ownership can make it difficult for prospective tenants to find out who landlords are, experts warn.

It can also be hard to get landlords to work together on a long-term regeneration strategy for a town centre, which in turn may deter retailers from opening new shops.

James Child from EG said: “Ownership is really coming to fore in terms of the debate around the High Street.

Ownership of top UK high streets by investor type Percentage of total
UK real estate investment trusts and “Propcos” 21.4%
Overseas investor(s) 17.3%
Public sector 16.6%
Traditional estates, church and charity organisations 13.3%
Institutions (insurance, banking and pension funds) 8.9%
Private individual(s) 7.5%
Investment management schemes 5.8%
Retail and leisure occupiers 5.3%
Other 3.9%

“If we need to refurbish a particular area for example, if there’s a lot of vacancy, then we need to know who’s exactly behind the façade of each shop or regeneration can be very difficult.”

Edinburgh has the most fragmented High Street, according to the research.

Former leader of Edinburgh City Council, Donald Anderson told the programme the regeneration of Princes Street had stalled because of difficulties getting landlords to sign up to an overarching plan for redevelopment.

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Many stores have shut because of the recent retail slowdown

The British Property Federation, which represents UK residential and commercial real estate companies, says this patchwork of ownership is mirrored around the UK and can be a “significant deterrent to long-term institutional investors”.

Chief executive Melanie Leech said: “Strong leadership and a genuine commitment to a shared agenda will be needed to overcome it.”

A host of High Street retailers have announced closures recently as more people do their shopping online and retailers struggle with high overheads.

It has prompted the government to offer relief from business rates, but some argue it should go further.

Along with the ownership register, High Street minister Jake Berry said the government was “working to enhance powers of local authorities to proceed with compulsory purchase orders to end fragmented ownership”.

The register will be piloted in individual local authorities.

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