A COALITION of retailers, landlords, councils and pubs has called for planning laws to be torn up so that abandoned shops can be turned into cafes, galleries, gyms and other businesses that could help rejuvenate Britain’s decimated high streets.
Empty units in the middle of towns and villages are often hard to let because it can be difficult and expensive to get permission to change their use. For example, a unit used as a hairdresser’s needs permission to be changed into a nail bar.
“At present, it can take about eight weeks and cost about £500,” said the British Property Federation, which represents shops’ landlords. It wants to change the rules to keep up to date with modern shopping habits, as online sales take retail business away from high streets.
This makes it crucial those selling “experiences” can move into empty units once used for retail.
The landlords’ call to chop back planning rules was joined by other groups who said the move could revitalise high streets. The proposals came in responses to an inquiry by the housing, communities and local government select committee.
“Traditional shop uses have become increasingly blurred, as coffee shops also become mini-libraries, and independent gyms house cafes. Although businesses have adapted to challenges, planning laws have not,” said the Federation of Small Businesses. “Planning conditions seek to regulate every type of floor space, from sale space to a gym floor. These strict regulations and planning conditions drastically reduce businesses flexibility and adaptability, reducing their ability to compete.”
The British Retail Consortium agreed, calling for regulators to “ease of change of use [rules].”
The Booksellers’ Association said it wants “simply less red tape”. It wants more creative use of empty space to bring shoppers back to the high street, including “use of empty shops to promote arts activities and artisan crafts”.
Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), said “transforming the fortunes of high streets is eminently possible”.
“High quality visitor experiences” help as does a recognition that “far more than just ‘shopping’ is allowing some town centres and their high streets to change and thrive,” said British BIDs.
The Local Government Association said it is time to recognise “a contraction in retail floor space” may be needed to help high streets survive.
The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government said high streets should specialise if they want to thrive. “Examples include Ludlow’s reputation as a centre for ‘slow food’, Norwich’s coordinated approach to its medieval heritage and the ‘alternative’ identity created in Stokes Croft, Bristol.”