Converting empty spaces on UK high streets could reverse the housing shortage

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Converting empty spaces above shops could help reverse the current housing shortage in many part of the UK, according to new research.

It is estimated that 300,000 to 400,000 new homes could be created from such spaces above shops in High Streets across the country and the move had the backing of the majority of Parliament.

The new report from the Federation of Master Builders says that although the idea is not a new one and there are important lessons to learn from previous schemes and policies, there is significant untapped potential to create additional homes above shops, on or near the high street.

But it also says that key factors that need to be considered such as access to the building and servicing, compatibility between retail and residential needs, age and structure of the building, building regulations, fragmented ownership, community support and local housing need and viability.

It explains that in 2012 there was a large policy shift in developing a more streamlined planning policy through the National Planning Policy Framework. There were also additional policy changes to stimulate redevelopment through permitted development rights, namely office to residential and retail to residential, and this shows the drive and desire of the Government to stimulate the delivery of new homes through a broad range of measures.

‘Exploring the potential for house building and redevelopment opportunities on our high streets is the logical next stage to this policy journey. Where there is unutilised space above shops that could be more intensively used or redeveloped into additional housing units, these types of conversions can make useful additions to the housing stock and help local councils meet their housing need,’ it points out.

It makes a number of recommendations, saying that local authorities should explicitly make reference to building homes above shops on the high street within their various planning documents and should help find ways to overcome disparate ownership and limited building access and/ or infrastructure in order to make redevelopment of residential units easier.

It also suggests that there the market is not yet strong enough to make such development viable, central Government should make available low cost loans, grants and fiscal incentives while councils, local community groups and developers should work collaboratively with property owners to highlight the potential of this type of development.

The research from the FMB shows that 94% of MPs believe it could reverse the shortage in their constituency, 89% say it could boost local growth and 86% think it could have a positive impact on town centres.

‘There is space just waiting to be turned into residential accommodation. The fact that 90% of MPs of all parties recognise the potential of our existing buildings to help solve the housing crisis means we need to be more imaginative if we are going to build the 300,000 homes a year that the Chancellor pledged in last month’s Budget,’ said Brian Berry, FMB chief executive.

He pointed out that the research highlights the opportunities that exist for creating new homes in a range of different building types. ‘It demonstrates what could be achieved by innovative and ambitious development. The report puts councils at the heart of the solution and suggests some practical ways for them to facilitate the development of wasted space above shops,’ he added.

‘Local authorities should include proposals to make use of these empty spaces in their planning documents and also help find ways to overcome the various barriers, such as limited building access, so that we can tap into this much needed source of additional housing supply. Building new homes is important, but a great deal can also be achieved through making better use of our existing buildings,’ Berry said.

‘Over the past decade, as consumer habits have changed with the rise of online shopping, high streets are struggling to remain relevant. There will always be a place for vibrant high streets within our market towns but if not all of this space can be used for commercial reasons, let’s make use of it for residential and help increase the supply of new homes,’ he explained.

‘These sorts of properties would be ideal for young professionals, or young families just starting out, as they benefit from good transport links and are close to shops, bars and restaurants. What we must avoid is perfectly good space lying empty and achieving nothing in terms of boosting the local economy or housing individuals and families,’ he concluded.

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Written by: Houseladder