Lots of interesting exchanges in the Commons statement on the housing strateg.
For instance there was the following:
Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): The Minister will be aware that as a result of changing shopping patterns, many of our towns have boarded-up empty shop properties, many of which are substantial buildings that could easily be brought back into housing use. Will he explain what plans he has to do that? In the case of my constituency, this would provide a better and more attractive environment for the town and attract more visitors, which would boost the tourist trade.
Grant Shapps: I appreciate that there might be times when the mix is wrong. Having said that, we want to ensure that we do not destroy vibrant potential business areas. I confirm that we are looking at use class orders, for example, and we will have more to say about that shortly.
I think Vickers is on to something. It is not just about the recession but something more long term due to the rise of supermarkets and internet shopping that we will need fewer shops. Part of the answer is allowing more shops to convert to being cafes or offices and thus retaining a the frontages of a row of shops. Certainly there should also be policies to help small shops succeed – lower business rates, less red tape, more motorist friendly parking polices.
But there should be more flexibility over the use if the buildings. Those on the corner residential streets and main roads would seem to be suitable as that would not break up a row of shops. Also retail use could be retained on the ground floor with more conversions to flats being allowed upstairs. Sometimes changing shops into homes would jar with the surroundings but sometimes it wouldn't.
At the moment there is a shortage of home and an over supply of shops. Planning policy needs to adjust to reflect the reality of the market.