Retail-to-resi plan could ‘breathe life’ into high streets

The British Property Federation (BPF) has welcomed the publication of a consultation that could see vacant high street shops converted into homes, but warned the government must learn lessons from similar office to residential proposals.

The BPF said the average high street vacancy rate stands at over 14% as the pressure of both the financial crisis and long-term issues such as the rise of internet shopping and the increasing burden of business rates, tells.

The Federation believes “there’s little point harking back to the high streets of old and alternative uses for empty shops – particularly those outside a retail core – should be found. We have repeatedly urged government to consider housing and even community uses such as doctor’s surgeries.”

BPF chief executive Liz Peace said: “Retail to residential conversions could be an important step in breathing life into our high streets, and we would very much encourage a flexible approach, particularly in areas with increasingly obsolescent retail stock outside the retail core that is unlikely to be brought back into retail use.

“We’re particularly pleased that government has listened to industry concerns and confirmed it will be up to local authorities to define their core retail areas, rather than a nationally set red line approach, and that there will be exemptions for conservation areas and national parks.

“However, the government must look back at the largely defunct office to residential proposals and ensure the same mistakes are not repeated. It must not be so easy for local authorities to effectively ignore these proposals at a time of such acute housing need.”

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