Empty shops to become homes from next spring

Empty shops to become homes from next spring

Empty shops are set to be turned into homes under permitted development rights and without the need for planning permission.  

The Government’s Department for Communities and Local Government is proposing that a shop of up to 150 square metres can be turned into a single house or up to four flats.

Local authorities would have only limited powers to reject conversion plans. Developers would have to apply to councils for prior approval before they went ahead with conversions.

Councils would be permitted to reject the application on the grounds of loss of economic health to town centres, loss of essential local services such as post offices, and the “potential impact of the change of use on the local character of the area”.

However, the Secretary of State would have the power to overturn refusals if local authorities use them unreasonably.

The CLG consultation, which will run until October 15, is intended to make it easier to bring empty shops back to life by giving them new use. It follows a similar move to allow unoccupied offices to be turned into homes.

The shops-to-homes changes will come into force next April.

Planning minister Nick Boles said: “Thousands of empty and under-used buildings, often on the edge of town centres, are going to waste because people do not want the hassle and uncertainty of submitting a planning application.

“Removing this barrier will bring more people closer to their town centres, providing a much-needed boost to local shops and ensuring we make the most of buildings that are already there for new homes.”

The consultation also recommends allowing the conversion of redundant barns into up to three homes, again without planning permission. This is intended to address the need for rural housing.

The British Property Federation welcomed the proposals. It said the average high street vacancy rate stands at over 14%.

Liz Peace, chief executive of the BPF, 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 are particularly pleased that the 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.”