Headlines: July 23rd, 2012

With more shoppers deserting the high street, plans been announced to bring them back.

Shopping habits are changing and compared to last year, high street footfall is down 2 per cent. Following the Mary Portas 2011 report the problem of empty shops is to be tackled by relaxing planning controls. Some 11 percent of shops on the high street are empty, creating a depressing appearance and a financial loss for landlords. The new planning arrangements seek to turn this problem into an opportunity.

The rules for use of the shop will be relaxed for two years to allow temporary or ‘pop-up’ shops to utilise vacant high street premises until a permanent tenant can be found. One of the barriers to start-up firms can be planning rules that control what type of business a shop can and can’t be used for.

The proposals would scale back the red tape that causes shop owners costly delays securing planning permission, over £1200 on average, before a disused shop can be used for a different purpose. Landlords would instead be free to temporarily change the use of an empty shop for two years, something currently not automatically permitted.

It is hoped that this change will help to reinvigorate the high street by opening up more affordable places for entrepreneurs to launch start-up businesses, which in turn will re-energise local economies, end the blight of boarded up shops and help landlords meet property costs.

A new publication, Re-imagining urban spaces to help revitalise our high streets from the Department for Communities and Local Government, describes different ways to imaginatively to revitalise high streets and town centres – increasing high street vitality, attracting footfall and boosting local economies.