The Government has published a consultation on greater flexibility for changes of use, including permitted development rights to allow the conversion of retail units into housing. The Government states that this will support the housing agenda as well as high streets by allowing the conversion of unviable shops on the fringe of town centres, leaving retail activity concentrated in prime shopping streets. The scheme has been promoted as a way to increase footfall in town centres by increasing the local resident population. However, there are concerns of irreparable damage to the high street if landlords convert retail units that are still viable in order to seek higher rental income (as some are seeing being borne out in relation to office to residential conversions).

The change of use would be subject to a prior approval process in respect of the design, the potential impact of the loss of the retail unit on the economic health of the town centre, the need to maintain an adequate provision of essential local services such as post offices, and the potential impact of the change of use on the character of the area. It is proposed that the new right would apply to A1 (shops) and A2 (financial and professional services), have an upper threshold of 150sqm and allow conversion to a single dwelling house or a maximum of four flats.

The consultation also seeks views on permitted development rights to allow:

  • change of agricultural buildings of up to 150sqm to residential use
  • change of retail uses to banks and building societies
  • change of offices, hotels, residential and non-residential institutions, and leisure and assembly to nurseries providing childcare
  • change of use of an agricultural building of up to 500sqm to a new state funded school or a nursery providing childcare