A High Street Collision – Are Some Businesses Just Too Late and Stuck in Their Ways?

Retailers and BIRA are on a collision course with Government over Housing Policies for empty shops. Small Business Magazine - YBKBS
Retailers and BIRA are on a collision course with Government over Housing Policies for empty shops.

Robert Jenrick is facing growing opposition from some high street businesses over UK Government proposals to allow town centres to be converted into housing without planning permissions.

Business organisations representing 27 different professions and traders including booksellers, butchers, cinema operators and cycle traders have written to the Housing Secretary urging him to reconsider the policy.

Marc Ford

Marc Ford

Editor-in-Chief, Business Media Owner, Business Coach, Author and Keynote Speaker. Works with over 100's of small businesses every year. Trusted by BBC TV and Radio, Channel 4, Mercedes Benz, Hitachi Capital on business matters.

Jenrick’s housing department is in the consultation phase to extend permitted development rights, to enable more shops, restaurants, gyms and other empty business premises in town centres to be converted into housing without approval by the local planning authority.

More and more of our High Streets look like this - Isn't it time we did something different with them?

“Dear Sir…”

Signatories of a letter seen by The Times Newspaper argue that the proposed policy to reverse the decline of high streets “risks putting the long-term health of our town centres at risk for the sake of a short-term stimulus”. 

“Putting ground floor housing in a random and uncontrolled manner within high streets does not draw footfall, does not support new businesses, reduces the potential for business growth and will undermine the viability of existing retail, cultural, and commercial activities,” the letter states.

The option to convert shops to higher-value residential uses would have negative consequences such as removing convenience stores from local neighbourhoods, it added.

The letter was signed by groups including the British Independent Retailers Association, National Craft Butchers, the Association of Convenience Stores, UK Cinemas, British Business Improvement Districts and the Booksellers Association of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.

Are They Missing The Point?

From the perspective of someone that has worked on the High Street and in Retail for many years, this very much smacks of trying to ‘close the door when the horse has already bolted’. The high streets decline has been happening for decades. The signatories of this letter forget that many small business owners have been ‘frozen out’ of High Streets in Cities, Towns and Villages for many years and for the bigger businesses you can’t have your cake at eat it. Out of town Shopping Centres and Retail Parks were the flavour of the month for many years, but they have also seen a progressive drop in footfall numbers as they chose not to keep up with the changing way in which people shop. So the sudden ‘Save our High Street’ mentality won’t sit well with many people who have been openly and angrily discussing this for years, despite what it might mean for them.

A New ‘High Street’ Near You…Coming Soon?

Permitted development rights were introduced in 2013 to let developers convert offices into flats without planning permission. In 2016 the rights were extended to include shops and some commercial premises, smaller than 150sq metres.  Under the new proposal, properties of any size, including the largest shops on the high street, could be converted without planning permission, however permitted development rights were criticised in a government report last year for leading to ‘a slum style of housing’.

The plans have been opposed by the British Property Federation, the landlord group, which warned this month that the policy would exacerbate the decline of high streets and hit local government finances, because council tax paid by residents is typically less than business rates.

But in a time where big branded names have faltered and crumbled due to various contributory factors, exacerbated by the pandemic isn’t it AS good an opportunity to make some quick decisions and allow smaller businesses the chance to thrive? The percentage of GDP that is created by big business in this country is reducing due to them no longer being in business and the therefore the percentage is only likely to increase when it comes to smaller businesses who are more nimble, forward thinking and hungrier to make things work. 

High Streets already look like Ghost Towns, in some places with over 20% of retail space currently vacant and boarded up, so it makes sense to try something different and dynamic a create a different High Street for the public of the 21st Century, rather than the guys in suits who’s bonuses and dividends depend on profit alone.

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Business Coach, Author and Consultant. Has worked with BBC TV and Radio and Channel 4 on business matters. Trusted by Mercedes Benz, Hitachi Capital. Keynote speaker.