The Government has published its response to the consultation exercise undertaken last year, which further extends permitted development rights to change the use of shops and banks/building societies (use class A1 and A2) to residential units, the change of use of shops to banks/building societies, extended the ability to change existing retail and commercial premises to nurseries and allow further changes to agricultural buildings to provide homes and nurseries/childcare facilities in rural locations. Check out the Government’s consultation response report if you are either interested in planning or looking for a cure for insomnia – easily works for both.

This blog is dealing only with my views on the changes to permitted development rights for retail units and banks/buildings societies. We’ll talk about the changes to agricultural permitted development rights at a later date – but to be honest this is all good and about time too as the pretty extensive restrictions on the ability to re-use redundant agricultural buildings was, in my humble opinion, pretty potty. The other bits appear to be pretty inconsequential add ons.

So this change relates to units of up to 150 sq.m in size and includes the physical works associated with the change of use. Although listed building consent will still be required for physical alterations to listed buildings.

Unsurprisingly, it looks as though the Government is sticking with all of its proposals in relation to the change of use of retail units and banks/building societies. They are making very few concessions to concerns that have been raised, despite 50% of respondents not agreeing with the proposal on the change of use of shops. If you take the time to read the report you will note that there is no reference to any negative issues associated with this aspect of the consultation proposal! The cynic in me might have something to say about this but I want to keep this blog a little bit light hearted.

At this point in time it’s not clear what controls will be instituted to control the loss of retail units in terms of their location or if this will be vacancy dependent. But it would appear that prior approval will be required for the potential impact of the loss of the retail unit and whether there is the potential for its re-use for an alternative retail use, its impact on transport issues, flood risk and the quality of design relating to the physical alteration of the buildings. But as they say the devil will be in the detail.

It is not clear if permitted development rights will be limited in areas of Article (1) 5 land – that’s conservation areas, National Parks, the Norfolk Broads, areas of outstanding natural beauty, and land within World Heritage Sites – including Bath, Liverpool’s Maritime Mercantile city, Saltaire in Bradford and Ironbridge Gorge to name a few. Again we’ll just have to wait and see on this issue.

There does, however, appear to be one specific change. There was going to be a restriction on the number of units that could be created, but this has been removed and so the only control that will be exercised on unit creation will be through the physical constraint of the size of the unit itself. Pretty vague and this doesn’t really provide any confirmation on what will have to be used to guide acceptable units sizes and therefore the number of units that can be created within a building.

Dont get me wrong we need to create viable, active, engaging shopping areas at a local, district and central and regional level. They have to be responsive, accommodate consumer needs and shopping habits and provide affordable space for people to run their own businesses. But I’ve got to be honest in my humble opinion I am not sure that this helps to support our high streets in anyway. Personally I think it will undermine a Council’s ability to protect shopping areas and serve to fragment and undermine the vitality and viability of a shopping area thereby damaging the sustainability of communities. Let’s not forget once these retail units are gone we won’t get them back.

So as I previously wrote in a blog post in March the following are things that we can start to do as individuals and local communities to address this:

  • Support and use local shops to demonstrate they’re economically viable, important and have a future;

  • Strengthen traders associations. These can assess the level of provision in an area, confirm the importance of local shops to secure the viability of an area, its facilities and protect its amenities. They can lead on consultation responses, object to applications or prior approval applications that will jeapordise ranks of shops and galvanise local support for shops;

  • Shops need to provide a customer orientated, flexible shopping experience that encourages use;

  • Find out who owns vacant shops and lobby them to understand why they’re vacant and work with them to encourage the re-use of empty shops as opposed to converting them to residential use; and

  • Provide Councils with support to ensure they understand the importance of local shops to their local communities and work with them to ensure strong local planning policies to support local shopping centres.

But if anyone has an alternative view on this then I would be happy to hear it. So tweet me on @Planningventure.