Why we should stop and think before turning shops into homes
Back in December we blogged about the Government’s plans for allowing retail-to-resi conversions in order to breathe life back into high streets around the country. The argument goes that empty shops are blighting our town centres and converting them to housing would bring people - and trade - back into urban areas. Proposals went out to consultation that would allow developers to sidestep permitted development rights and allow empty Class E property to be re-used as housing. Its a persuasive argument but it does have flaws.
Retail-to-resi conversions are clearly a way to bring more housing into the mix but when the plans were proposed we warned against giving investors and developers a free hand. Our view is that, although we all appreciate more homes are needed, this should not be at the cost of quality, design, decent light and space requirements or a good mix of use classes.
So we were heartened this week to see the British Property Federation stepping in with comments that echo our own and urge government to think again. The BPF thinks retail-to-resi could make the decline of the High Street worse not better. It’s argument is that the new PDR could backfire and result in property developers automatically prioritising residential projects rather than first taking into consideration the best possible use for empty stores. With media attention fixed on bad examples of PDR homes, the danger is that "responsible developers will find it harder to bring forward much-needed high quality investment,” says the BPF.
We couldn’t have put it better ourselves. There are myriad reasons why department stores and low rise retail developments may not be suited for conversion to housing. And there is also a need for other types of development in town centres that could be pushed out if there is a headlong rush towards residential use. The BPF says this "would be likely to impede any impetus for lower value uses - such as independent retailers, creches or community hubs - which do not offer the same swift financial returns but are vital to providing High Streets with a unique identity and more purpose and diversity.”
We couldn’t agree more.
Author : Maryanne Bowring
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