The high street is dying but not yet dead and can still be revived and reimagined, says the Federation of Master Builder (FMB) in response to a new report by a Committee of MPs.
In the report ‘High streets and town centres 2030’, the Select Committee for Housing, Communities and Local Government said “The six months over which our inquiry took place appeared to be the most turbulent for the high street so far. Barely a week went by without headlines pronouncing the ‘death of the high street’ or a major retailer announcing a restructuring or a fall in profits.
“An enormous change has taken place in retail in recent years. The traditional pattern of making purchases in physical stores, both in and out-of-town, has been profoundly disrupted by the growth of online shopping. The impact of this on our high streets and town centres in the form of store closures, persistently empty shops and declining footfall is clear for all to see.
“Against this concerning backdrop, we make a set of recommendations to Government, local government, local communities, retailers and landlords to be acted on now. Unless this urgent action is taken, we fear that further deterioration, loss of visitors and dereliction may lead to some high streets and town centres disappearing altogether.”
Responding to this, Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB, said “I’m really encouraged with the visionary approach this report has taken, as it looks at how we need to fundamentally reimagine the ways that we regenerate our high streets in order to adapt to the challenges of modern life. Central to breathing new life into our high street is converting empty or underused spaces above shops into new homes. These kind of homes would be ideal for young families and professionals, and would benefit the high street through increased footfall to the ‘activity-based community gathering places’ which the report wants us to aspire to. The 2017 FMB report ‘Homes on our high streets’ sets out a number of creative ways that we can overcome the challenges laid out by the Select Committee, and which are associated with regeneration projects, including disparate ownership and preserving local characteristics. In this regard, I was particularly pleased with the Committee’s conclusion that the Government must review the planning powers currently available to local authorities, with a view to strengthening them and empowering local authorities to deliver on town centre transformation and, at the same time, the Government’s ambitious housing targets.”
“With a survey of cross-party MPs showing that 90 per cent of respondents recognise the potential of our existing buildings to help solve the housing crisis, I would urge the Government to accept the recommendation to conduct a review of our high streets as quickly as possible. In particular, the Government must deliver on its commitment to review the Compulsory Purchase Order process, which could help speed up regeneration of high streets. However, contrary to the Committee’s conclusion that Permitted Development Rights risk undermining a local authority’s ability to plan for their housing delivery, streamlining the process for upwards development above certain premises would help them meet their targets while maintaining a more rigorous application process for other kinds of developments. What we must avoid is perfectly good space lying empty and achieving nothing in terms of boosting the local economy or providing homes for individuals and families.”