Posted: Thursday 2 February 2012
By Hugh Angus
Well, only a small part, in some places. It happened in 2004 and few people noticed.
Mary Portas’s review of the High Street http://www.maryportas.com/news/2011/12/12/my-28-recommendations/ made some recommendations that are sensible, and some that were “less well received” by the property industry, particularly in the section on community involvement. One of these recommendations was community right to buy (“CRTB”) of empty shops, under the Localism Act.
Since 2004 we have had CRTB in Scotland when property in certain areas is marketed for sale. Most people think of this as something vaguely rural and agricultural, Highlands and Islands even, but it can be used for any type of property. The only limitation is that the communities need to have fewer than 10,000 people. So it can’t apply to Marks & Spencer on Princes Street, but it could have applied to Marks & Spencer at Straiton Park, which recently changed hands.
http://crtb.sedsh.gov.uk/landreformp/viewer.htm shows the areas that are excluded from the right to buy – some of which are quite interesting for commercial property.
I acted for the landowner of a commerce park in the first attempted CRTB in Scotland, just after the Act came into force and we were well into the marketing when the community registered an interest under the emergency procedure. Ultimately the CRTB did not proceed but it held up the disposal for over a year as both parties wished to appeal against the valuation. The Act is generally well-drafted and, while there are potentially some ways round it with good planning, the procedures favour communities, not sellers.
So if someone who lives in Loanhead wants to buy a shop on the High Street or in a Retail Park whenever it next comes up for sale, what do they have to do? Subject to the discretion of the Scottish Ministers, only 10% of the community have to express an interest in registering to give the community a right of pre-emption on the next sale. If on the next sale a majority of the community (sometimes less) wish to purchase, this is enough to give it an exclusivity period to negotiate terms to buy at open market value and obtain funding (again subject to Ministerial discretion). Emergency applications can be made after the marketing starts, if there has been no prior registration of interest.
The reality is that while funding this is feasible for one of the High Street shops, it is not for the Retail Park, even if the Scottish Ministers did not block the application.
Since 2004 few, if any, shops have been bought or even registered under the Act. Even in remote communities, community purchases seem to have been voluntary (outside the Act). I do wonder if there would be any more interest in England & Wales from the community in buying shops at market value. Are people really keen enough on the High Street to shop there rather than Amazon or the supermarket, let alone to buy the shop?