Here we look at what the new rules are, why they might be considered good and bad for high streets, and what residential experts have to say.
What has happened?
The government said new planning law enables unused commercial buildings to be changed into homes.
It is hoped this could encourage more people to live near local high streets and come to the area for work and leisure, “helping cement our high streets and town centres in their rightful place at the heart of communities”.
“will help support the creation of much-needed homes
Is this with immediate effect?
The government is now introducing legislation for England to bring forward this right from August 1 2021.
Couldn’t developers already convert commercial into residential?
Yes. But the latest measures are aimed at speeding up the process with less red tape.
The new homes will be delivered through a simpler ‘prior approval’ process instead of a full planning application and will be subject to high standards, “ensuring they provide adequate natural light and meet space standards”.
Communities secretary Robert Jenrick said: “By diversifying our town and city centres and encouraging the conversion of unused shops into cafes, restaurants or even new homes, we can help the high street to adapt and thrive for the future.”
Can any unused commercial property be redeveloped?
The building changing use has to have been vacant for three months before the date a application is lodged, in order to protect successful businesses in these premises. Existing buildings will be have to be 1500 square metres or under.
Why might homes on or near the high street be welcomed?
Retailers with physical stores have long faced well-documented headaches, from high business rates to growing competition from online firms. That was before the coronavirus crisis piled on more pressure, with lockdowns hurting trade.
A number of vacancies are expected on the high street, with a number of recent deals for chains such as Topshop and Debenhams including digital assets but not real estate. Where landlords cannot find replacement retailers to open stores or leisure operators to take over, turning empty sites into flats could be seen as a potential alternative.
The government said the rules announced by Jenrick “will help support the creation of much-needed homes while also giving high streets a new lease of life – removing eyesores, transforming unused buildings and making the most of brownfield land”.
Any difficulties with adding more homes on or near the high street?
With new homes there is the possibility that adding more residents to an area will put more pressure on local waiting lists for schools, nurseries and dentists. The loss of shops could also mean potentially less income for councils via business rates.
What initial thoughts do residential experts have on the latest plan?
Jonathan Seal, chief executive of developer Regal London, said: “We welcome today’s announcement that enables unused commercial buildings on our high streets to be changed into homes.”
He added: “There are no simple answers to revitalising town centres. Instead, a carefully coordinated set of strategies are required to make these places where people want to be, that are relevant to everyday life and are just not about retailing. Diversifying uses to include new homes is a hugely important part of any town centre regeneration.”
Nick Whitten, JLL head of UK living research, said: “Covid-19 has transformed the way we work and play having a profound impact on the types of buildings we need on our high streets. Homes meanwhile have become more important to us than ever before and simply put, there is a fundamental undersupply of housing across London. Demand for city living will bounce back in 2021 with a growing appetite to return to social, bustling urban centres, particularly driven by younger generations.”
Whitten said: “Allowing the conversion of obsolete commercial buildings makes sense to deliver much needed homes, as long as the checks and balances are in place to ensure those homes are fit for a modern 21st Century standard of living.”
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