High streets being ‘strangled’ by red tape

The Adam Smith Institute has argued that the high street needs to be made fit for purpose in the next decade, with local plans currently failing to reverse their decline.

The think tank says that, given the rise in online shopping, the UK should expect fewer big chains dominating the high street. Instead we should expect to see supermarkets and pharmacies next to yoga and dancing studios beneath residential apartments and the odd hipster cafe serving smashed avocado on toast.

The Adam Smith Institute complained that national planning guidelines have hindered the high street by encouraging monopolistic ownership by national landlords and limiting missed-use spaces. It argues that towns, cities and national planning guidelines should expand the areas that shops and cafes can set up to encourage mixed use.

The paper also says that the bureaucratic nature of local authorities and the policy making process means that local plans are often out of date, superseded by new developments, other policy documents and market changes, before new ones are adopted.

The Adam Smith Institute recommends suggests that the government could bring life back to our high streets across the country by: removing the requirement to set strict areas of shopping activity; encouraging mixed-use developments and a diverse range of uses within and around town centres; shorter term plans to complement or replace long-term plans; the examination process for local plans should be simplified or abolished; neighbourhood Planning within urban areas should be encouraged further to take advantage of local knowledge and expertise and produce plans better focused on local needs and priorities; and permitted development rights should be expanded to allow conversion of residential or office buildings to retail use and vice versa.

Thomas Walker, author of the report, said: “Everybody knows Britain's high streets are struggling. In order for that to change we need a new approach to planning policy that gives our town centres the flexibility to react and adapt to rapidly changing economic conditions and consumer needs. We need to move away from the old idea of dedicated retail zones and embrace a more dynamic, mixed-use approach to make our town centres prosperous and create a safe and active environment for residents, workers and visitors.”