A CITY centre blighted by ‘To Let’ signs outside shops is looking to ease planning regulations to make it easier for entrepreneurs to open restaurants and convert upper floors into apartments.
Empty units near to the under-construction Westfield shopping centre in Bradford city centre could become bars, shops or restaurants without the need for a ‘change of use’ planning application under proposals backed yesterday by councillors.
They backed consultation on allowing developers to convert empty floors above city centre shops into up to nine apartments without the need for planning permission.
Permission would still be required for external works to the fronts of shops and apartments.
The proposed fast-tracking will exclude payday lenders, pawnbrokers, hot food takeaways and betting shops.
Action to reduce To Let signs will focus on Market Street, Charles Street and Broadway, close to the previously stalled Westfield development, due for completion in autumn next year.
A council spokesman said: “The area centred around Market Street and Broadway, adjacent to the site of the now commenced Westfield shopping centre is suffering a particularly high rate of vacancy - causing loss of footfall and the deterioration of the quality of the environment in this part of the city centre.”
It is anticipated that the easing of planning regulations, allowed under Government-backed Local Development Orders, will operate for three years.
Council leader David Green said yesterday he was “delighted with the progress” at the Westfield site which “raised confidence in Bradford.”
He feels “vindicated” the Westfield development is progressing but says more work is needed to encourage new businesses to open.
“There has always been an issue with empty shops, particularly when Westfield stalled. We are now seeing investors and retailer interest in properties. Consultation has started on loosening the planning rules so change of use (of retail premises) can be easier.
“It means people are not going to have to go through a lengthy planning process, from retail to restaurant, or similar.”
The chief executive of lobbying organisation Bradford Breakthrough, Colin Philpott, said he was hopeful that restaurant operators would be attracted to the city centre.
“Bradford Breakthrough proposed this relaxation and is delighted to see the Council adopting it. It’s a crucial part of the offer we’re making to restaurant operators to get them to open in the city.
“We’ve invited restaurant operators from all over Britain to our event ‘A Taste of Bradford’ being held on March 27 when we’ll be showcasing the city’s attractions as a place for restaurants.”
Councillor Glen Miller, Tory group leader on Bradford Council, said he wasn’t sure whether relaxing the planning system would work, adding: “I am not totally sold on the idea, but time will tell.”
Val Summerscales, of Bradford Chamber of Trade, said: “With careful monitoring, this could work. It’s a carrot to encourage people into these properties.”