Two birds, one stone

12 Dec 18 | Charlotte Orrell

The Chancellor recently announced a new fund to support the redevelopment of under-used retail areas into residential units. Alongside this, MHCLG were publishing their consultation document ‘Planning Reform: Supporting the high street and increasing the delivery of new homes’ to formalise some of Hammond’s proposals – a two birds one stone policy?

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The woes of the high street are frequently documented. 2017 saw 6,000 store closures on UK high streets, whilst footfall has continued to reduce annually. Pressure to revitalise the high street and bring back to life vacant units have now been around for over a decade.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. Internet sales continue to increase, from 5% in 2008 to 15% in 2018. Small businesses are adapting to the ‘click and collect’ movement, whilst supermarkets are downsizing some stores to reflect increases in online shopping. The shape of the high street is therefore changing. In parallel to this, central and local government are responding to other pressures by encouraging development within town centres including providing more homes in well-connected spaces.

The Chancellor recently announced a new fund to support the redevelopment of under-used retail areas into residential units. Alongside this, MHCLG were publishing their consultation document ‘Planning Reform: Supporting the high street and increasing the delivery of new homes’ to formalise some of Hammond’s proposals – a two birds one stone policy?

The conversion of retail units to residential is not a ground-breaking policy. Measures were put in place back in 2013 through Permitted Development Rights to allow the ‘easy’ conversion of specific retail units to residential dwellings. The consultation document, which runs until 14th January 2019, proposes policy changes to allow greater scope for using permitted development rights to ‘adapt and diversify’ the high street.

We should be cautious when it comes to PD rights in this context; the policy may instil fear in small business owners requiring affordable space, and that recent office to residential PD rights have raised quality control concerns. Questions arise as to whether an overarching PD right, which spans the varied nature of retail units, is an effective mechanism for revitalising the high street and providing high quality new homes. Rather a more fundamental change in planning policy direction, which allows for the loss of retail units and their replacement with other more suitable land uses, may be more appropriate.

On review, the consultation document doesn’t overly display a relaxation in PD rights with regards to residential conversions. Worryingly, the consultation appears to only add your local fried chicken shop to the list of uses to be converted to residential under PD (which I’m bound to object to at 3am). The consultation does perhaps reflect a starting point in the slow progression of adapting high streets to changing consumer trends and the introduction of new homes to these central locations. While I do believe in the potential to provide sustainable homes whilst supporting a new vision for the high street, it is difficult to argue that this shouldn’t be the subject of applications; where proposals are appropriate for the location and are quality-controlled.

Charlotte Orrell Planner,Planning
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