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The Department for Communities and Local Government has published proposals to ease the bureaucracy which stops empty buildings being brought back into use. There is an acceptance that if market conditions mean that a building can only viably function with a change of use then that reality should be accepted. A building left empty for a long period of time is a pretty good sign that the market is being prevented from working.

Anyone trying to develop a site for a free school will be interested in the prospect of greater flexibility. This is an area where the Government has been feeble – making it much to easy for inner city Labour councils to protect the monopolies of their bad schools. To start a new school you need a building to be designated D1. Usually a small temporary building will be needed for the first couple of years of entry, while a larger permanent building is adapted.

There is also the familiar problem of high streets being blighted by empty shops – sapping morale, dragging down a neighbourhood, and offering a magnet for anti-social behaviour.

Then there is the widely noted problem of a shortage of housing.

The DCLG announce that:

The proposals would scale back the red tape that causes shop owners costly delays securing planning permission, over £1,200 on average, before a disused shop can be used for a different purpose. Landlords would instead be free to temporarily change the use of an empty shop for two years, something currently not automatically permitted.

There are also specific proposals for change of use from redundant farm buildings and those which can only be used for hotels or guest houses.

For the farm buildings it says:

We believe there are opportunities that could arise for diversification and sustainable economic growth in rural areas if more existing and redundant agricultural buildings were re-used for other commercial uses where there is no longer an agricultural need. Currently, such buildings require planning permission for any change of use….it would be possible to provide a permitted development right that allowed conversion of existing buildings used for agriculture to be used for other purposes. These uses could be specified.

For changing unwanted hotels into badly needed housing it says:

There are premises in the C1 use class that no longer provide viable holiday accommodation. This may be for a range of reasons from changing trends in holidays to the desire for accommodation which has a more contemporary offer for its guests. Often such properties will be found in urban areas with existing good transport, health and school infrastructure. In some traditional holiday areas there are already strategies in place to enable change of use and in doing so creating new residential neighbourhoods. Allowing the conversion of hotels to residential use could trigger activity offering new opportunities to the house building industry and offering skilled developers and families the opportunity to enhance their neighbourhoods.

These are the sort of modest sensible changes which cumulatively could bring great benefits.

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