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Feb 2, 2021
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Government empty-shops-to-homes plan a ‘threat to the high street'

Published
Feb 2, 2021

A UK government proposal to convert empty retail properties into homes is being seen as a “threat to the high street”, developers and architects have said.


Photo: Sandra Halliday


The British Property Federation (BPF) has joined business lobby group London First in opposing the scheme saying uncontrolled conversion of shops and restaurants into homes “will damage town centres".

As the number of empty stores across the country's high streets grows, the government’s proposed plan, introduced in early December, would allow a larger range of premises in a new Class E use category a permitted development right (PDR) to convert to housing. This includes offices, shops, restaurants, professional services premises and light industrial units.

There would also be a lift in size limits to include the conversion of medium-sized or large stores.
 
But the BPF said the plan would have “significant adverse consequences” and “exacerbate the decline of our high streets, far outweighing any positive contribution to new housing supply”.

Ian Fletcher, BPF’s director of real estate policy, told Building Design: “This new PDR will take control away from local authorities at a time when our high street’s future depends more than ever on strong local leadership and vision.”
 
London First, which includes developers among its members, also told the publication the new proposal “risks significantly harming the sustainable futures of our high streets and town centres” by allowing "uncontrolled and piecemeal conversions".

It pointed out that because residential land values in most areas will be higher than most commercial land values, the plan, far from “tackling the scourge of vacant property”, would see “viable businesses… ousted in favour of a residential conversion”.

It added: “Allowing the market to pepper-pot housing on an ad hoc basis in high streets and town centres that are already struggling will break up active frontages and further dilute their vibrancy and commercial success.”

The government said its proposals were designed to tackle the problem of surplus commercial floorspace, and would “diversify and support” the high street, and “help support economic recovery, housing delivery and the regeneration of our high streets and town centres”.

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