A boom in converting shops to houses could get under way if the government accepts recommendations from the property industry to change planning rules. The British Property Federation (BPF) has thrown its weight behind suggestions that planning authorities should allow shops to be converted for housing in its response to government consultation.
BPF says giving councils greater flexibility to allow conversions would both support the High Street and provide a much needed increase in housing. High Street vacancy rates are currently averaging 14%, which equates to 250,000 empty shops in England alone, and housebuilding, despite recent sharp rises, is at historic lows.
BPF says that in order to ensure that change of use remains relevant and advantageous local authorities should strategically identify which areas should be designated for the more flexible approach and reflect the new zoning in their local plans.
BPF also wants councils to think more strategically about their retail areas. They say the process of gaining prior approval for change of use should be simple and concise, and include consideration of any particular retail property’s economic viability. They also want assurances from councils that conversions will not have a resulting impact on existing businesses.
The property trade body also wants permitted development rights to change retail units to banks and building societies, stipulating the necessity for greater clarity in defining what a bank or a building society is. They also want permitted development rights extended to changing agricultural buildings like barns to residential properties, stipulating that the upper threshold limit of 150 sq m may be conservative.
BPF chief executive Liz Peace said: “We are fully behind the provision of greater local authority flexibility to re class redundant shops for development into desperately needed homes. Other retail conversions that regenerate town centres by encouraging high street footfall would be a welcome breath of life for both the property industry and local communities.”
BPF would also support moves to convert shops for leisure and community uses.
Photo: Gwydion M Williams