Tees Valley Labour mayoral candidate Jessie Joe Jacobs has welcomed national plans that would see town halls able to take control of empty shops under plans to revive the decaying high street.
Boarded up shops are a common sight in town centres across the Tees Valley and Jacobs has welcomed national Labour Party plans to give local councils beefed-up powers to act to end the decay.
Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds unveiled the radical plans last week warning that without action our high streets “will be sold off to the highest bidder without planning permission”.
“Britain’s high streets are at the heart of local communities,” she declared in a set-piece speech. “It is not just a string of shops and post offices, it’s a place that people want to have pride in. The high street goes to the heart of Labour’s vision to make Britain the best place to grow up and grow old in.”
Last year Boris Johnson announced his intention to override the normal planning process and allow empty shops to be converted from August. Empty restaurants, banks, shops and offices will be fast-tracked for residential use.
“It will rip the heart out of our communities,” said Jacobs as she backed Labour’s plan to fight-back what Labour described as a “decade-long creep of decay”.
“We need to get the balance right,” she said. “We need to take concrete action now. Our high streets have been allowed to wither away over 10 years of austerity and inaction from national government.
“The current Tees Valley mayor has invested so much time and money in the airport and the steel site but the high streets are every bit as important.
“Vibrant high streets with a great mix of retail, leisure and hospitality are at the heart of my vision to make the towns in the Tees great places to live and work in. They are the beating heart of communities.
“We need to help bring innovative new businesses into the heart of our towns and help them flourish and if we can remove the shutters and revive empty buildings all the better.”
The Labour plans envisage that town halls would first work with owners of empty properties to restore them to use but, if that fails, they should be allowed to take them over and carry out any necessary works.
Councils will be permitted to charge rent and, after recouping the cost of renovation, that would pass to the owner.
“We need to secure the future of our high streets and give local businesses and local communities a proper stake in our town centres,” said Jacobs.
“We need to make high streets hubs again with retail, leisure, good quality housing and social enterprise encouraged to prosper and bring new services and jobs to communities as we look forward to a better future.
“That is why I am putting the revival of the high street at the centre of my vision for the Tees in this election.”