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Government plans to relax high street planning law

The government is considering scrapping planning laws to make it easier for landlords to convert retail space to other uses. 

The Times has reported that communities secretary James Brokenshire is drafting legislation that would remove change of use laws in certain circumstances to make it easier to convert empty shops to other uses such as restaurants or bars.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said the new approach would “bring additional flexibilities for local authorities and businesses on the high street”.

The introduction of a new use class that will “reflect the desirability of a use being found on the high street” is proposed. The new use class will allow “acceptable” uses on a high street that will be capable of being amended via permitted development rights.

“Unacceptable” or “inappropriate” uses will still need planning permission. Local authorities would also be able to remove permitted development rights if they are able to show that such measures meet the National Planning Policy Framework test of protecting local amenity or the wellbeing of the area.

A government spokesperson said: “People’s shopping habits are changing, so the high street needs to adapt accordingly.

“We want to make it easier to transform empty or poorly performing premises into [the types of] shops where people want to visit, see goods and spend their hard-earned money.”

The Times said the number of vacant shops on UK high streets rose by more than 7,500 last year, fuelled in part by store closures from retailers such as Mothercare, New Look and House of Fraser.

Earlier this month the British Retail Consortium reported that retail sales had slumped by 2.7% year on year in May – the steepest decline since records began.

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