Ministers have been urged to convert the nation’s growing number of vacant shops into housing as a think tank warned the coronavirus crisis will change shopping habits forever.
The Social Market Foundation today called for the Government to undertake a ‘nationwide programme of repurposing city and town centres’.
Such an effort could create more than 800,000 new homes to address the UK’s ongoing housing crisis, it argued.
The SMF report comes after the Government unveiled plans to tear up planning red tape to allow boarded up shops and abandoned offices to be turned into homes without the need for full planning permission.
The coronavirus crisis has had a massive impact on the retail sector with thousands of jobs already lost and business chiefs warning there will be more redundancies and shop closures to come.
The SMF think tank said: ‘COVID-19 is catalysing changes to our working and consumer habits.
‘This is likely to have a significant impact on town and city centres. Rather than letting our high streets fade into obscurity, politicians can create an ambitious vision of repurposed urban space and reinvigorated communities.’
The think tank said that ’emerging evidence suggests that lockdown will change consumer and business behaviour on a long-lasting basis’.
It said there is likely to be a ‘permanent shift to homeworking and digital retail’ which could spell doom for the current version of high streets.
‘A nationwide programme of repurposing city and town centres should be introduced,’ the SMF said.
‘This would see vacant retail space converted into residential property.
‘Replacing commercial space with residential property could, under conservative assumptions, create 800,000 additional homes.’
Boris Johnson used a speech in Dudley at the end of June to promise the ‘the most radical reforms of our planning system since the end of the Second World War’.
Changes have now been brought forward which will make it easier for business owners and developers to ‘repurpose’ premises that are no longer needed and bring them back into use.
In a further move, families are being offered a new fast-track system allowing them to add up to two storeys to their homes.
Campaign groups hit out at reforms, that include plans to have dedicated areas for building, with one group saying government plans could lead to ‘thousands of tiny, poor quality “homes” in unacceptable locations like industrial estates.’
Ministers are drawing up proposals for broader changes this summer, including a possible new presumption in favour of development in certain designated areas.