Comment 90611

By Noted (anonymous) | Posted August 04, 2013 at 11:10:07

Thousands of shops could be turned into houses and flats after a government decision that some traditional high streets are no longer viable.

Nick Boles, the planning minister, believes local authorities should give up trying to revive town centres that are blighted by rows of boarded-up shops. Instead, he says, some of the empty properties should be converted into affordable homes.

In a policy that could change the face of town centres across England, the government wants councils to concentrate their efforts on revitalising shopping in struggling areas on just one or two “prime” streets.

The proposed relaxation in planning restrictions on converting retail premises into private housing could mean terraces of shops being turned into housing. Long high streets could be shortened.

A relaxation of planning rules could see town centre shops converted into homes, as ministers accept that the thriving high streets of the past are unlikely to return.

Rather than seeking to revive every street of boarded-up shops, planning minister Nick Boles suggested that councils should concentrate retail outlets in 'prime' locations and allow other areas to become residential.

Following a report by retail guru Mary Portas, who was hired by David Cameron to find a way of reviving dying town centres, some £1.2million of taxpayer money was shared out between 12 towns for initiatives to inject new life into their traditional shopping high streets.

But her key recommendations, which included cutting business rates and putting a brake on new shopping centres, have both been rejected.

Mr Boles today said that planners most respond 'creatively' to shifts in the way today's consumers shop.

Allowing redundant shops to be converted into homes could ease pressure on greenfield sites for residential developments.

The planning minister said: 'People' s shopping habits are changing very fast as a result of the rise in internet shopping and changes in lifestyles and working patterns. We need to think creatively about how to help town centres thrive in this new era. We want to encourage local councils to concentrate retail activity into the prime shopping streets in the heart of their town centres and adopt a more relaxed approach to under-used retail frontages.'

Ms Portas expressed concern that councils would choose the 'easy option' of turning units into housing and said that losing the high street would be 'one of the greatest social crimes in our country.'

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