New rules making it easier for commercial premises to be converted into homes to help revitalise England’s high streets and town centres have been welcomed by Thursfields Solicitors.
The package of government measures, announced by housing secretary Robert Jenrick, is aimed at providing more homes and transforming unused buildings to give high streets a new lease of life.
Robert Pettigrew, a director in the Commercial Property department at Thursfields, explained the conversion of commercial properties to new homes will be delivered through a simpler ‘prior approval’ process instead of a full planning application.
Mr Pettigrew said: “Closed and boarded up shops, abandoned buildings and empty offices are sadly becoming a feature of many high streets, and steps need to be taken at local, regional and national levels to prevent the decline becoming irreversible.
“At the national level, it’s encouraging to see that the government is introducing measures to ease rules that can sometimes restrict or even prevent a property being best used to meet local needs and demands.
“These new rules are aimed at making it easier for landowners, developers and tenants to initiate the changes so that disused premises can once again serve a useful purpose.
“The plan is that buildings that people want to use and visit will help facilitate the return to the high street that is required if they are to survive and thrive again.
“A key part of the plan is to simplify the planning process to enable unused commercial buildings to be changed into homes, ensuring that people return to the high street and that empty premises are brought back to life.”
Mr Pettigrew praised Mr Jenrick’s stated aim to create “the most small business-friendly planning system in the world to provide the flexibility needed for high streets to bounce back from the pandemic”.
However, he pointed out that while the plans for new housing and a high street recovery were required, the government’s proposals did not come without risks.
Mr Pettigrew said: “It will be crucial that what is delivered is what is needed and required. This will mean sustainable and carefully planned development, otherwise we risk moving from empty offices to low quality, characterless housing.
“Another risk is that developers look to profit by producing the type of properties that are beyond the reach of the majority and risk remaining empty, as has already happened with many central London developments.
“Consideration also needs to be given to preserving the character of our towns and city centres and to ensure that development is complementary to what will remain, with issues such as space and noise taken into account.”
Mr Pettigrew added: “Given the need to breathe life back into the high street, where the new flexibility is married to local needs there is no reason why the plans should not succeed, particularly as we cannot afford to sit back and wait for the retail market to recover without assistance.”