Will Relaxing Planning Restrictions Save the High Street?

Posted on 24 July, 2012 by Neil Bird

The government is hoping to see more pop up shops on UK high streets as a result of a relaxation in planning restrictions following the publication of the Portas Review in May. The proposals were announced by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles who claims his ideas will turn high streets into an exciting launch pad for start-up businesses.

The decline of the high street has been well documented with commercial property vacancy rates currently standing at a national average of 11 per cent. Any hope that this trend might be reversed without intervention were dealt a blow recently when it was revealed that footfall was down 2 per cent year on year during the first quarter of 2012.

Among the factors believed to be hindering a high street revival are the planning laws and commercial property classifications that restrict the purposes a premises can be used for. Under the latest proposals landlords would be allowed to temporarily change the use of a shop without planning permission for a period of two years.

It is hoped that this will lead to more pop up shops occupying vacant units thus enabling entrepreneurs to turn the high street into a more exciting, family friendly place to go.

Mr Pickles said; “Leaving empty shops to rot is a wasted economic opportunity that spoils the town centre. That is why we are proposing to scrap the damaging red tape that is keeping so many boarded up.”

In addition to relaxing these planning restrictions the government has also set aside over £80 million to provide loans to start-ups which they hope will lead to the creation of around 30,000 small businesses.

Edward Cooke, of the British Council of Shopping Centres, welcomed the proposals saying that encouraging community involvement in the high street and creating a “sense of place” was the key to competing with multi-channel retailing.

However others have raised complaints that issues like business rates, rents, stamp duty and the rate of employers National Insurance contributions are far greater hurdles to high street regeneration than planning restrictions.

Do you believe that relaxing planning restrictions will help breathe life back into the UKs high streets, or do you think the government, local authorities and commercial property landlords need to take a coordinated approach which addresses all these issues? Share your thoughts with us below.

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