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Planning reform could mean the death of England’s high streets - by Simon Jenkins for The Guardian

Updated: Sep 20, 2021

Will Michael Gove, the new Housing Minister, reverse his predecessor's decision to allow shops, restaurants, cafes and bars to be converted to housing? Simon Jenkins thinks the current proposals mad:

"The summer of 2021 may be remembered for Covid and the withdrawal from Afghanistan. But another lasting and insidious change took place: the death of the high street. By approving the building of residential homes on ailing shopping streets, planning minister Robert Jenrick effectively allowed any shop, restaurant, cafe or business premise in England to become a house. Since almost everywhere houses make more money, this puts every high street under threat.

Although done in the name of creating “thriving town centres”, Jenrick’s policy will strip away the cohesion that still binds many communities together, urban as well as rural. The diversity of English towns and cities has long been protected by planners enforcing classes of use. Restaurants and shops could not simply become houses without planning permission.

But as of last month, if any landlord thinks to profit by turning the use of one building into another, it will require no permission to do so. A building need only to have been vacant for three months (after Covid-19, this already applies to one in seven shops, and could easily be achieved by eviction). Hit by lockdown, online shopping and the end of rental holidays, high street shops are struggling to survive. They need time to recover, not Jenrick kicking them in the teeth and sending their landlords cheering to the bank."

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