UK minister for turning empty shops into housing

UK planning minister's suggestion that empty or boarded up shops be turned into housing is being seen as sounding the death knell of high street.

With relaxed planning rules, town centre shops could be converted into homes, as ministers accepted that the thriving high streets of the past were not likely to return.

According to minister Nick Boles, instead of looking at the revival of every street of boarded-up shops, councils needed to concentrate retail outlets in 'prime' locations and allow other areas to turn residential.

Retail expert Mary Portas was hired by David Cameron to find a way of reviving dying town centres. Following Portas' report around £1.2 million of taxpayer money was shared out between 12 towns for initiatives that sought to inject new life into traditional shopping high streets.

According to commentators many of Portas' recommendations regarding saving high streets, though, had been ignored.

Her key recommendations, which called for slashing business rates and putting a brake on new shopping centres, had both been rejected.

Boles added that planners needed to respond 'creatively' to shifts in the way today's consumers shopped.

Allowing conversion of redundant shops into homes could ease pressure on greenfield sites for residential developments, according to commentators.

According to retail chiefs, Boles' proposals marked the first time a minister had publicly admitted the high street in its traditional sense was beyond saving.

Bill Grimsey, a campaigner who had called on ministers to admit the high street was dying and needed radical reform, said as soon as he heard this he tweeted 'Hooray

He added, the campaigners had been saying for some time that high streets could not continue to serve solely as a retail destination, they had to be seen as a community hub.

Another executive told The Daily Telegraph over expansion into out-of-town shopping and the rise of the internet had led to current retail space becoming excessive.

Meanwhile, according to a spokesman for Boles' department, there was no current estimate of how many homes could be created through the relaxed planning rules. He asserted the minister was not "abandoning" the high street, and that creating housing closer to those shops in prime locations might actually boost business.