A new drive to revitalise high streets is under way. Planning restrictions will be relaxed so that empty shops can be turned into flats, cafes or restaurants more easily.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick says full planning applications will no longer be required to convert unused retail premises for residential use. It will also become easier to change the use of empty business spaces into cafes or restaurants.
The package of planning measures will also a 'fast track' scheme for extending public buildings, such as hospitals, schools and colleges. These are currently allowed to build small extensions without the need for full planning applications, but the new rules will take this process further and faster with a more streamlined system. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government says converting unused commercial buildings into homes will encourage more people to live near high streets and use the areas for both work and leisure.
It insists that homes built under the new system will be subject to high standards , ensuring that they provide adequate natural light and meet space standards. Thousands of shops have shut during the past 12 months as the pandemic hugely accelerated changes already being forced on the High Street by the rise of online shopping. Mr 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 adapt and thrive for the future.
The government has also announced changes to permitted development regulations to ensure demolition of unlisted heritage assets, such as statues, memorials and monuments, must be approved by planners.