Retail to residential planning consultation to “Boost High Streets”

Comment from planning consultancy Turley Associates.

The Government has published a significant consultation that could see empty banks and office buildings turned into new homes breathing new life into the High Street.

The consultation – Great Flexibilities For Change Of Use – proposes to remove unnecessary planning regulations that will, according to Planning Minister Nick Boles

“cut red tape and make it easier to bring empty and underused buildings back to life, revitalising our high streets and rural towns”.

Ian Fergusson, Associate Director at Turley Associates comments:

“This consultation is most welcome, particularly where town centres have a surplus of redundant retail or office stock. The decision to allow local authorities, rather than central government, to define their retail areas is also welcome, but they will have to make some difficult decisions balancing the loss of local amenities, business rates and creating vibrant town centres.”

The consultation proposes the introduction of new a permitted development prior approval regime that will allow for greater flexibility to change the use of high street buildings used as banks, building societies and offices into homes. It also proposes to allow offices, hotels, secure accommodation and property used for leisure purposes to be re-allocated as nurseries.

Off the high street, the consultation proposes to make it easier for land owners to convert redundant farm buildings into homes or schools and nurseries.

Ian adds:

“The Government and local authorities will, however, need to balance the potential impact of the loss of retail units on the economic health of a town centre against the need for homes and to ensure that there remains an adequate provision of essential local services, such as post offices.”

Commenting on the proposal to make it easier to convert redundant farm buildings Ian said:

“This could represent a significant boon for rural land holders, with a conversion to housing offering greater certainty of a financial return. Given the huge demand for homes in rural areas and the prospects of achieving a rental income, this potential change is likely to be far more attractive than office or retail conversions and is likely to gain wide support from the rural community.”

The consultation will run until 15 October 2013. The Government hopes to introduce the changes from April 2014.