The Government’s radical proposals to make it easier to convert retail properties into residential has met with criticism from key industry figures.
Planning minister Nick Boles this week unveiled plans to enable local authorities to name “prime retail frontage” within their districts, allowing the rest of the town centre to be converted into residential property.
The Department for Communities and Local Government’s policy suggests local authorities offer “under-used retail frontages” in side streets and edges of town centres for development.
Most recent figures from the Local Data Company show there are nearly 22,500 empty shops in the UK’s top 650 town centres.
But Michael Weedon, deputy chief executive of the British Independent Retailers Association (Bira), said he had “real concern” about elements of the proposals.
He told Drapers: “We think it’s an interesting proposal but it doesn’t take into account all of the facts. The real story is that it’s the chains that have been reducing their real estate, often in shopping centres rather than secondary town centres.”
He added: “This policy won’t solve the housing crisis, it won’t be enough to revive town centres, but it will be enough to get the PR problem off the Government’s desk.”
Talking Point - Will government plans help or hinder the high street?
Daniel Le Sauvage, owner of young fashion retailer Urban Vintage in Ipswich
“Every town has different factors to consider but the one that goes through them all is rent and rates - that is what the Government must address first, along with free parking. You wouldn’t want the town centre to go too far the other way and become just a residential centre. I can’t see people wanting to live on a high street.”
Steve Cochrane, owner of premium independent department store Psyche in Middlesbrough
“I think it’s a great idea; there is far too much choice on the high street and with more people shopping online there’s no need for so many stores. Retailers have to fight tooth and nail to survive. They are going on Sale too early and it’s still extremely tough out there. I would rather see residential homes than empty shops.”
Matthew Hopkinson, director of research firm Local Data Company
“I welcome it - it’s an acknowledgement by the Government that we have to totally change these town centres. However, implementation will be dificult - business rates are higher than you’d get from rent, which suggests it would need subsidies or a grant to work, and if there aren’t any jobs in the centre people may not move there.”
Dave Conaghan, owner of young fashion store Chocolate Clothing in Derry, Northern Ireland
“I’m not sure if it would work. It would all depend on where the empty shops were situated. If the Government is proposing to put residential houses in the middle of the high street it would add to the problem. However, if it was concentrated on side streets it would increase the local population and have a positive effect.”