Under planning reforms to be introduced by housing minister Robert Jenrick, planning restrictions will be relaxed so that empty shops can converted more easily into housing.

In a drive to revitalise high streets, many devastated by long-term decline and more recently the impact of Covid with the shift to on-line shopping, full planning applications will no longer be required to convert shops into housing.

Under expanded permitted development rights (PDRs) developers will find it much easier to obtain permission to convert retail space into housing from this coming August.

It will also be much easier to change the use of empty retail and business spaces into other uses such as cafes or restaurants. Since their introduction in 2015, PDRs have allowed the creation of 73,000 housing spaces, conversions which otherwise would have been turned down under existing planning laws.

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Closing stores

Now, with over 17,000 stores closing on Britain’s high streets, the government and local authorities are desperate to see a revival of the many devasted town centres up and down the country. One way to achieve that experts think is to encourage more town-centre living.

The package of measures being introduced by Mr Jenrick will also give additional planning rights for public buildings, for example, schools, universities and hospitals to expand their premises, without the need for detailed planning applications, under the PDR regime.

Currently homes, businesses and public authorities are allowed to build small extensions without the need for full planning applications under PDR, but these new rules will take this process a step further, allowing more flexibility in what is and is not allowed, making the planning process operate as a faster more streamlined service.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has said converting unused business premises into homes will revitalise many run-down high streets by encouraging people to live, work and enjoy leisure in these locations.

MHCLG insists that this relaxed planning regime will not in any way lower standards, as basic planning and building regulations will still control how the premises are incorporated into, for example, retail space, and ensure that they provide adequate natural light and space standards.


Bounce back

Jenrick said: “We are creating the most small-business-friendly planning system in the world to provide the flexibility needed for high streets to bounce back from the pandemic.

“By diversifying our town and city centres and encouraging the conversion of unused shops into cafes, restaurants or even new homes, we can help the high street to adapt and thrive for the future.’

The Government, under this same legislation, is also seeking to safeguard important heritage assets such as statues, memorials and monuments by way of changes to existing permitted development regulations, to ensure that demolition of unlisted heritage assets must be approved by planners.

Seaports will also come under the PDR regime to give them the same development freedoms already enjoyed by airports when undertaking new developments.

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