Responding to the news in The Sunday Times (4 August) that Government is considering relaxing planning restrictions to allow empty retail units to be turned into housing, Paula Ridley, Chair of Civic Voice said:                            

“We accept that the future of the high street has to be more than simply a retail experience. As a nation we sometimes get bogged down into thinking that our high streets are only about retail but they are much more than this. They need to be about place – not just profit. However, introducing this change will remove the right of the community to decide what is best for their area. We are not against the policy per se, but we are against the fact that the voice of the community will be removed”.

The formal change of permitted development right has yet to be formalised while Government conduct a consultation on the idea.

Ridley added “Civic Voice members reject the notion that good planning is a brake on the economy. On the contrary the best planned places are also the most economically successful. That is why allowing change in this manner is wrong”.

Ridley finished by saying “We agree with the Government that finding a solution to the housing crisis is essential, but this proposal is tinkering around the edge of the problem. The barrier to house building arises from borrowing restrictions and economic uncertainty, not planning. Investors need certainty and introducing uncertainty through sudden changes to planning has negative consequences. If the Government wants to solve the housing crisis, they should look at bringing back into use the 920,000 empty homes across the UK, 330,00 of which are long term empty.”

To help strengthen our nation’s high streets, Civic Voice is calling for:

  •     A compulsory ‘exceptional sign-off’ on every out-of-town development by the Secretary of State or Planning Minister
  •     Introduction of localised permitted development rights
  •     Transfer of out-of-town development business rates to reduce town centre rates
  •     Permission for planning authorities to control the mix of shops
  •    The enabling of councils to offer rate relief
  •    Steps to be taken to prevent landlords from leaving retail property empty