Changing Town Centres – a Planning View

Promotional Business Feature: Evans Jones, Pictured David Jones is Managing Director/Head of Planning, Property and Planning Consultancy
David Jones

David Jones, Managing Director of Planning and Property Consultancy, Evans Jones discusses how recent planning changes can help to ensure that our towns and cities remain thriving centres for the 21st century and beyond.

The effects of the pandemic have been far-reaching for all corners of society – not least, our behaviour and where we choose to live, work and spend our leisure time. The already growing trend towards online shopping is now firmly entrenched in our psyche and with our work/life balance changing to a more hybrid working model, the question of how we use our office space also hangs in the balance. Couple that with widespread closures in the hospitality industry – and the effect on property usage in our towns and cities is profound.

None of us want to see ghost towns with boarded-up shops, disused offices and redundant buildings – so how can we ensure that our towns are utilised to their best effect and what role can the planning system play to facilitate this?

Recent planning changes have sought to recognise our changing behaviours and provide flexibility at a time when there is a need to revitalise our town centres and high streets. A new Class E has been introduced which encompasses the previous A, B1 and D1 classes (retail, office and non-residential institutions and assembly and leisure uses respectively). This enables a repurposing of buildings to reflect changing requirements and allows buildings to be used flexibly or changed to another use without the need for planning permission.

A further recent change also extends permitted development to allow the conversion of Use Class E commercial buildings to housing, as well as the upward extension of commercial blocks, blocks of flats and residential properties. In addition, full planning applications will no longer be needed in many instances to demolish vacant buildings and rebuild them as housing.

With an ambitious government target of delivering 300,000 homes per year by the mid-2020s, perhaps we should be looking to our towns and city centres as the solution to building homes that people can afford and want to live in. In its report, ‘A New Life for the High Street’, the Social Market Foundation estimates that under a “conservative assumption” 5% of commercial land could be released for development, allowing at least 800,000 homes to be built.

These changes are undoubtedly a welcome move and will go some way to revitalise our town centres and ensure that our space is repurposed to best use. In reality, it is an evolution of consumer tastes and behaviours and rather than using words such as ‘demise’, ‘death’ and ‘decline’, we can see this as an opportunity to create town centres of the future. If we can create environments in which people want to live, work, play and learn, we can give our towns and cities a beating heart once again.

David Jones is Managing Director of Evans Jones Ltd., Planning and Property Consultancy. Evans Jones operates nationwide and has offices in London, Cheltenham and Reading.

To find out more about Property and Planning services or discuss your project, you can contact us on 0800 0014090 or email info@evansjones.co.uk

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