Even before COVID-19, the Government had been looking for ideas to try and revive our high streets.
Naturally, there are undisputed benefits of planning policy, and the Use Classes system. However, it is clear that the system has also prevented the high street from being able to adapt to the changing trends in how we live, work and shop. In the past, for example, a restaurateur or coffee shop owner would have been prohibited from occupying a retail property with a traditional Class A1 (Shop) use, without first obtaining planning consent from the local authority. Inevitably, planning rules/applications are notoriously complex, and add further layers of cost and uncertainty, which deterred many occupiers, and kept shops vacant. In addition, in Chichester, planning policy existed that restricted the number of ‘non-Class A1’ uses that could be permitted in any one part of the high street.
However, from 1 September 2020 a new Use Class E was introduced, which encompasses the former Classes A1 (Shops), A2 (Financial and Professional Services), A3 (Food and Drink) and B1 (Business), in addition so some D1 (Non-Residential Institutions) and D2 (Assembly and Leisure) uses. Furthermore, from September 2020, occupier/owners have greater flexibility to change between any one of these uses, without the need to obtain planning consent beforehand.
It has been self-evident that this relaxation of planning policy has helped facilitate a number of recent lettings of vacant retail properties in the centre of Chichester. In the last 12 months, for example, almost 50% of all lettings agreed in the prime retailing streets have been to non-A1 occupiers; which has seen Chichester welcome the likes of Kokoro, Lime Squeezy and Burgerz ‘n’ Brewz to its retail offering.
Our shopping habits are always changing, and will continue to change. A more flexible planning system will enable our high streets to adapt to these habits, and ensure they remain attractive centres to visit and shop.