Empty shops on ailing High Streets could become homes

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A RELAXATION of planning rules could see town centre shops converted into homes, as Ministers accept that the High Streets of the past are unlikely to return.

Rather than seeking to revive every street of boarded-up shops, planning minister Nick Boles suggested that councils should concentrate retail outlets in “prime” locations and allow other areas to become residential.

Following a report by retail guru Mary Portas, some £1.2m of taxpayer’s money was shared out between 12 towns for initiatives to inject new life into their traditional High Streets.

But Mr Boles said planners mostly respond “creatively” to shifts in the way today’s consumers shop, and that allowing redundant shops to be converted into homes could ease pressure on greenfield sites for residential developments.

He also indicated that councils are to be encouraged to allow farmers to convert old agricultural buildings into homes.

“We want to make the best use of existing buildings in the countryside to meet the desperate need for affordable housing in rural communities,” he said.

“The more redundant barns that can be converted into homes for young families, the more we can protect green fields from development.”

The move comes after Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said he is allowing homeowners to rent out their drives for up to £2,400 a year without planning permission.

The guidance for local authorities in England follows reports some have threatened to levy fines if planning permission is not obtained.

Mr Pickles suggested some councils may be worried about losing income from parking fees and that lifting parking restrictions could boost local shops.

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