This being a general truism, that a rather large amount of today’s progressivism is in fact a harking back to some mythical past. Here the example is the High Street and the empty shops in it.
Labour will allow councils to seize abandoned shops to give them a new lease of life as cooperatives or community centres, a policy designed to revive struggling high streets.
Jeremy Corbyn is expected to announce the shake-up on a visit to a high street in Bolton on Saturday, calling the sight of boarded-up shops a “symptom of economic decay” which is lowering living standards.
Under the Labour proposals, local authorities could offer properties which had been vacant for 12 months to startups, cooperative businesses and community projects.
There are all the usual questions at this point. Who is going to be paying that rent and those rates? And if someone is at some mutually agreeable level then why is the power to seize necessary? Mutually agreeable will already have solved that problem.
However, it’s the missing of the forests that is the real problem here:
“Boarded-up shops are a symptom of economic decay under the Conservatives and a sorry symbol of the malign neglect so many communities have suffered,” Corbyn will say.
“Once-thriving high streets are becoming ghost streets. Labour has a radical plan to revive Britain’s struggling high streets by turning the blight of empty shops into the heart of the high street, with thousands of new businesses and projects getting the chance to fulfil their potential.”
That vast technological shift to online is not economic decay, it’s precisely and exactly the opposite, the deployment of new technology improving productivity, the very thing which is the definition of economic growth.
The real, real, point here though being that the proposed solution refers to a specific report, that report itself saying this:
LDC said landlords were already looking at strategies to make better use of space such as redeveloping it as homes or warehouses or bringing in leisure services such as gyms.
The number of vacant units that were demolished, split into smaller outlets or converted to another use jumped to 3,577, up from 2,706 in 2017.
Stainton said: “The significant increase in structural redevelopment of retail space across 2018 indicates that landlords, place managers and councils are starting to take action to critically review how much retail stock is in the market and how much is actually required. Over the coming months, we expect this trend to increase, and with it will come a redefinition of not just our high streets, but shopping centres and retail parks too.”
That redevelopment of the commercial property estate is already happening. Driven by the usual incentives of making or not losing money.
Which leaves us again with the question, well, what problem is being solved by allowing local councils to confiscate then award to those who won’t pay rent such properties?
And that’s even before we get to perverse incentives. You need planning permission to significantly change the use of retail property. Planning permission which comes from the local authority. Which, if they don’t grant it, gets to allocate said property to favoured clients after 12 months as it remains closed waiting for the change of use application. This will do what to the speed of the change of use part of the planning system?