Local authorities have spent £3.8bn on acquiring commercial properties over the last five years. Nearly half was spent on office space, but £600m was used to purchase retail property.Many town centre shopping areas are struggling, mainly due to competition from online shopping. The low to mid-range shopping areas have been the hardest hit. High streets with many empty shops concern councils as they create a poor image of a town and put people off visiting. Many private investors have pulled out of the retail sector, so local authorities have responded by taking an active part in regenerating town centres. They believe that high streets can be saved by providing more retail, office and leisure facilities.
A survey by property company Revo found that 66% of respondents believed that a combined effort by private and public bodies is the answer. The private sector has the resources and experience to manage retail property. In some areas, the local authority has improved environments with landscaping and leisure amenities to attract people to the town centre. With more people attracted to the town centre, retailers can expect increased sales.
There are plenty of funds available for property development, commercial mortgages for private investors, and councils are able to borrow money at cheap rates from various sources including the Public Works Loan Board.
Revo believes that there should be more joint projects between local authorities and private investors to make town centres more attractive and prosperous.