19 June 2019
The government is reportedly drawing up legislation to allow landlords and retailers to close struggling shops and transform them for other uses such as cafés and restaurants without the need for planning permission. Under the plans, which were first reported in The Times, A1, A2 and A3 use classes – for shops, professional services, and cafés and restaurants respectively – would be merged into a single use class.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has yet to comment directly on its plans but a spokesperson confirmed to Property Week that it wanted to “make it easier to transform empty or poorly performing premises into shops where people want to visit and spend their hard-earned money”.
It has also mooted the idea as recently as last October in its ‘Planning reform: supporting the high street and increasing the delivery of new homes’ report, which suggested that there could be “scope for a new use class that provides for a mix of uses within the A1, A2 and A3 uses beyond that which is considered to be ancillary, which would support the diversification of high street businesses”.
Many in the industry therefore think it is just a matter of time before the idea becomes a reality. Industry sources also believe the introduction of a single use class would be good news, but that does not mean the idea does not have its critics, particularly in the public sector.
“It should be a positive move, depending on the detail of the Permitted Development right if it emerges” says Julia Mitchell, a Planner at SHW. “High streets need help with being flexible which has been a consistent view for quite some time.”
Julia adds that under current regulations, high street units can be empty for months as owners and developers attempt to obtain permission to switch between different use classes. She feels that anything that can be done to reduce that waiting time would be worthwhile.
British Property Federation (BPF) chief executive Melanie Leech agrees. “The rigid application of shopfront policies restricting changes of use has prevented diversification and the introduction of new uses that are needed to boost the vitality of town centres,” she says.
“The way people use town centres is changing, so the MHCLG’s high street use class is a positive step to relieve pressure on local authorities, reduce the number of empty shops and allow town centres to respond more quickly and innovatively to change.”
However, Leech does not believe in giving developers complete free rein when it comes to use classes, adding that it is critical that local authorities still have a say in how their high streets might look. She suggests giving local authorities the resources to monitor high street trends so they can see for themselves what is working in the market and how they can work with businesses to best implement it.
This article is an abridged version of the original which was published in Property Week June 13th 2019. https://bit.ly/2RdJs7T (requires login).