The Local Government Association claims planning reforms risk ‘draining the life from high streets’.
The LGA’s environment and housing board chairman, councillor Mike Jones, said: “People tell us that they’re fed up of having their local high streets filled with betting shops and payday loan companies. If we’re to get people back out shopping in their local town centres, we need to give them more say on what type of businesses and shops open there. Instead, from today they will have less. There’s a very real danger that, in chasing a short-term boost, this panic measure could end up creating real problems in our high streets and doing lasting damage to our towns and cities. This could potentially drain the life from our high streets.
“Planning controls are not there to make life difficult for new businesses, but as a form of democratic quality control which ensures new shops and businesses will be good for the area and the people who live there. Councils are currently approving more planning applications than ever before.
“We desperately need to boost struggling high streets and help new businesses take over empty buildings, but a blanket national policy is not the answer. Councils aren’t seeking to stop bookies from opening up altogether, but it’s important that local areas can have a say.”
The government is discussing bringing in new rules designed to reinvigorate the high street. The plan is to cut red tape governing the use of shopping units in a move to return redundant buildings to productive use on the recommendation of retail guru Mary Portas. Owners and developers will no longer need permission to change the use of certain buildings from one type of business to another for up to two years.
Critics warn that this opens the door for premises previously used as independent gift shops to “be turned into payday loan companies” while greengrocers “could become betting shops” without the need for planning permission or public consultation. It also raised the prospect of almost any buildings being temporarily turned into new free schools and developers being allowed to convert offices into flats without planning consent.
However it appears that these concerns may be a little over stated as local government minister Don Foster pointed out even if the plans do go through at government level, local authorities will still have the right, locally, to make the final decision about whether a building’s use can be changed, talking on the BBC Radio 4′s Today programme he said “local authorities who don’t like it have the power under what is called an Article 4 directive to stop it happening.”