At the start of August 2021 new rules came into place via permitted development rights that allow cafes, shops, restaurants and gyms to be turned into residential developments.
According to a new study, conducted by University College London, this may mean that up to four out of five high street shops or units may one day be turned into housing.
The study explored how the new rules would affect high streets in Barnet, Crawley, Huntingdonshire, and Leicester.
They found that in Barnet 89 per cent of shops and other commercial buildings could be lost to residential conversion, while in Leicester and Crawley this stood at 77 per cent and in Huntingdonshire 75 per cent.
Fiona Howie chief executive of the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA), which commissioned the report, said: “We recognise the need for more homes and the desire to regenerate high streets.
“But we need new homes to be high quality and for town centres to be able to provide a mixture of services and amenity space.”
Dr Ben Clifford, Dr Adam Dennett and Bin Chi, the report’s authors, added: “In some neighbourhoods, entire high streets run the risk of being converted into housing.
“Clearly, anywhere near this reduction in commercial premises – whether shops, cafés, restaurants, gyms, nurseries, or day centres – would rip the heart out of our communities. And once shops have been converted into homes, they are extremely difficult to convert back.”
The report from the TPCA and University College London suggests that conversions should be made through the planning system where local people and councillors would continue to have a say on the future of their high streets.
This, they say, would make sure shops and offices converted into homes are safe and built to higher standards.
Responding to the report, Lord Crisp, Co-Chair of the All-party Parliamentary Group on Global Health, said: “We know the profound impacts that people’s homes and communities can have on their health, wellbeing, and life chances.
“We must see the changing high streets as an opportunity to develop housing that promotes physical and mental health and wellbeing – a real opportunity to build back better after the pandemic. It requires vision, creativity and a real commitment to quality.”
Adam Davis, a Director with Palmers and Head of the Construction Law department said: “The relaxation of planning laws relating to change of use should provide a much needed boost for developers keen to repurpose vacant buildings, particularly at a time when residential property is at such a premium.
“Although the legislation has been relaxed, it is still important to seek legal advice before embarking on construction and refurbishment work which involves a significant change of use, to ensure that all regulations are adhered to.”
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