The future of high streets and town centres remains a hot topic that has now moved into the planning arena, with the proposed changes to permitted development rights (PDR). 

High street

Source: Shutterstock/DavidGraham86

This could allow developers to convert retail units into offices and housing without the need for a prolonged planning process.

The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) warned last week that these expanded PDR could kill off the high street and create ‘dead frontages’ (‘PDR could “kill off high street”, planners warn’,

We believe reducing the planning red tape will free up properties that are no longer economically viable to be redeveloped for alternative uses. Having people living and working in town centres adds vitality around the clock, while also giving retail and leisure operators a customer base to sell their products to. However, we have learned that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Each individual town, city and location needs to be considered on its own merits.

As a nation, we have too many shops and restaurants. Therefore, if high streets are to remain relevant and provide a vibrant hub for communities, simpler conversion to other uses will be required.

The current planning process can be slow and expensive, with the outcome often defying civic and commercial sense. With fewer shops required, we risk great tranches of town centres becoming vacant, with limited ability for owners or developers to deliver alternative solutions.

My first-ever valuation lecturer pointed out that without external influence, property will always move to its most valuable use. Ultimately, if a location is no longer viable for retail or leisure, developers should be encouraged to look for alternatives. Towns and cities need to grow and adapt organically, providing a mix of uses that satisfies people’s demands while providing the economic stimulus for future investment and diversification.

While relaxing the planning process may help, in isolation it is not going to resolve the problems that our town and city centres face. This will take a joined-up approach from central government, local councils and the private sector on a host of different levels.

Neil Hockin, director, Lunson Mitchenall