Sector Focus Bulletin

Watts Articles

Watts Sector Focus Bulletin - Retail

Much has been written in the last few years about the death of high street shopping, with figures such as 37% vacancy rates in towns like Maidstone helping promote the view that there is no future for retail in our town centres.

But the high street is not dead. It is, by definition, central to communities large and small throughout the UK. So-called for historic reasons, the high street is traditionally the most important street in most towns and cities and as far as retail location is concerned, this is still the case.

It is true that the traditional occupiers of our high streets are struggling due to the rise of the internet and the dominance of supermarkets. But think about all the services that you cannot buy online or in every out-of-town retail park: shoe repairs, dry cleaning, key cutters, picture framing, boutique clothing, local crafts, decent food or a good coffee. And what about spaces to showcase local events, show off work from the local school, listen to music or hold a food festival?

Thanks in part to the work carried out in response to the Portas Review and the advent of the pop-up shop movement, empty space in many high streets is now being used to good effect. Former retail space is even being used to host temporary museums and gallery space and to hold parties and other events. The challenge for the future is to ensure that the high street changes to meet the varied demands of shoppers and the wider community but still remains a focal point. So let’s lose the long faces and put out the bunting; the high street is alive - we just need to learn how to use it in a different way.

At Watts, we have significant experience in all areas of retail property and as a result we have established a forum across our network of offices to address these and other challenges faced by retailers in this rapidly changing sector. This forum aims to support our clients wherever they are located by sharing collective knowledge and specialist expertise in the retail property sector.

In this bulletin we focus on some aspects of the retail sector that we believe are impacting on our clients. We hope you find the content both informative and useful. Check out our website and Twitter page (@Watts_Group) for more information.

Robert Burke
London Lead Director, Watts Group PLC

Watts Sector Focus Bulletin - Retail

Government consults on retail-to-resi reform

A new consultation on permitted development rights aims to create new homes while at the same time breathing life into the high street.

Retail Focus_Main_Aug-13

Following on from planning reforms announced earlier this year to enable empty offices to be converted to housing without seeking planning permission, the government is now proposing to apply the same permitted development rights to empty retail space. The proposals reflect the advice of the 2012 Portas Review, which recommended more flexibility for change of use and aimed to help the high street, rural communities and local retailers by increasing footfall and spending.

Nick Boles, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Planning, announced a consultation this month setting out new rules to allow conversions from:

  • Retail to residential – this would provide new homes and ensure better use is made of commercial properties that are no longer economically viable
  • Retail to banks and building societies – aiming to provide more branches in the high street and more choice for consumers
  • Agricultural to residential – creating more affordable homes in rural communities by making better use of barns and other agricultural buildings
  • Commercial to nurseries - offices and hotels could be converted into nurseries to help meet demand for more childcare provision
  • Agricultural to schools and nurseries – creating more childcare and school places in rural communities, and protecting the countryside by ensuring previously developed land is used first.

Launching the consultation, the planning minister said the new rules would cut red tape and make it easier to bring empty and underused buildings back to life, with the aim of revitalising high streets and rural towns.

He said: “Thousands of empty and underused buildings, often on the edge of town centres, are going to waste because people do not want the hassle and uncertainty of submitting a planning application.

“Removing this barrier will bring more people closer to their town centres, providing a much needed boost to local shops and ensuring we make the most of buildings that are already there for new homes, nurseries and schools this country needs.”

To download a copy of the consultation go to

For more information about permitted development rights within the retail sector, contact Robert Burke, Lead Director at Watts Group PLC, on 020 7280 8138.

Are you happy with the new retail-to-resi proposals or do you think local authorities should retain control of high street planning? Get involved with the debate on Watts’ Twitter page or join the Watts Bulletin group on LinkedIn.

The Watts Bulletin is the technical companion to the Watts Pocket Handbook, the essential guide to property and construction, as used by professionals since 1983.

Watts Bulletin editor: Trevor Rushton.