Turning shops into homes could be disastrous warns council

By Julia Gregory, local democracy reporter

A government proposal that some shops could be transformed could lead to “wholesale loss of large flagship retail stores from key shopping destinations”  such as Oxford Street, a council has warned.

Pre pandemic Westminster was  worth £63m  of gross value added to the UK economy.

A Westminster City Council report has warned that a lack of restrictions on the types of buildings that could be turned into homes could see large shops disappearing in the world-famous shopping destination  Oxford Street or others “of our unique high streets”.

The pandemic has seen the loss of  shops including Topshop’s flagship store in Oxford Street.

If the planning overhaul meant class E buildings such as shops, restaurants, gyms and medical centres could be turned into  100 per cent  residential schemes.

It “would harm, rather than enhance, the vitality and viability of our town centres, some of which are of international importance,” warned strategic planning officer Oliver Gibson.

And the council feared it could also herald wholesale loss of large office floorplates from parts of the central activity zone (CAZ) such as in the West End, Paddington or Victoria.

And the report warned that an uncontrolled loss of  ground floor shops in Westminster’s international, major, district and local shopping centres  could lead “to a loss of overall commercial character and function and an erosion of their vitality and viability.”

Council officers believe that the biggest impacts could be in local and district centres outside the CAZ “where the offset between commercial and residential property values is typically greater.”

In response to the government consultation Westminster Council argued that “a-one-size-fits-all approach has no regard to the unique role of much of Westminster” to the economy.

It said the area  provides jobs for Londoners and commuters in the south east and beyond, and draws in visitor spend from domestic and international tourism.

It said the plan “fails to recognise that the scale and mix of mutually supportive commercial uses in the CAZ is unlike anywhere else in the country, and that the West End is a global symbol of London and the UK’s success.

It also “fails to recognise that the shopping, leisure and tourism offer in Knightsbridge also plays a significant role in the attractiveness of the capital to visitors.”

It urged the government to bring in a rule limiting the number of new homes in former class E buildings to ten and enforce a minimum time they  are vacant before they could be  turned into homes.

The government plans to bring in the changes in July 2021.



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