High Street

Turning shops into homes is a “one-way street” leading to the demise of the high street, retail and landlord bodies have warned the government.

Writing to communities secretary Robert Jenrick yesterday (10 February), the chiefs of industry bodies including the Association of Convenience Stores and British Property Federation warned against proposals to allow high street shops to be converted to housing without planning permission.

The letter argues town centres must instead be planned by local authorities working alongside businesses and the community. It’s signed by the leaders of 27 industry bodies, also including the British Independent Retailers Association, Independent Retailers Confederation and National Association of British Markets.

“We welcome government recognition that our town centres must change, but an all-embracing permitted development right that allows most commercial buildings to be converted to housing risks putting the long-term health of our town centres at risk for the sake of a short-term stimulus,” the letter says.

It says the result could be “ground floor housing in a random and uncontrolled manner within high streets”, pushing footfall down, threatening retailers that remain and driving “convenience stores from local neighbourhoods”.

“This will create a vicious circle whereby the reduced viability of the remaining commercial uses in turn threatens their existence and incentivises their conversion to residential,” it argues.

“At the neighbourhood level, we consider that local centres would be particularly at risk. The loss of local shops and services could precipitate their decline at a time when we are putting greater emphasis on the need for walkable neighbourhoods which provide a range of day-to-day needs in local centres. A change of use to housing is a one-way trip.”

ACS CEO James Lowman said: ”High streets and other retail locations need to change, including more conversion of retail units into housing, but this absolutely has to be done on a planned basis. A free for all in conversions to residential use would make high streets incoherent and less compelling places to shop, socialise, live and work.”

A government consultation on ‘permitted development rights’, proposing allowing commercial premises on high streets to be converted into residential property without planning permission, was launched in December and closed at the end of January. The new permitted developments regime is set to take effect on 1 August once confirmed.