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Government Prioritises Residential Development on High Streets

31st March 2021

The government has announced new planning laws which will enable unused commercial buildings to be turned into residential properties. Though described as a means to help high streets “bounce back”, the decision may put the future of the conventional commercial high street at greater risk.

These fresh measures, put forward by Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, will effectively make it easier for residential development to transform vacant commercial buildings into “high quality” homes in central areas.

Following a recent period of struggle for non-essential high street businesses, and a period of long term decline for retail generally, this move may impede any hopes of a rejuvenated commercial high street sitting at the centre of cities, towns and villages.

A high street is defined by the Cambridge English Dictionary as “a street where the most important shops and businesses in a town are”.

The government have disregarded this definition and have decided not to encourage and support businesses who may be able fill the available space in central urban areas. Instead, they have opted to maintain the current stock whilst attempting to bring in residents to generate more localised footfall.

Ultimately, this strategy seems to be like putting more fuel in a broken car; the decline of the high street needs to be fixed first.

Mr. Jenrick hopes the system will “help the high street to adapt and thrive for the future”.

However, his decision may well alter the high street permanently, making it a place where residential property becomes increasingly dominant at the expense of the retail and hospitality businesses required to reinvigorate the UK’s built-up areas.

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