An image of Leeds' bustling city centre, full of people and historic buildings

Town centre living set for Budget boost

The UK high street could be a major beneficiary from measures announced by Philip Hammond in his 2018 Budget.

Mr Hammond pledged that a new ‘Future High Streets Fund’ would be armed with £675m for local councils to “…. invest in the improvements they need, and to facilitate redevelopment of under-used retail and commercial areas into residential, helping with the housing challenge.”

It was one of several property market-related measures in the Budget, which included

  • Abolishing stamp duty for first time-buyers on properties up to £500k
  • £500m for the Housing Infrastructure Fund to help build 650k new homes
  • 1bn allocated to support SME housebuilders
  • Help to Buy scheme extended, and will now end in 2023

Barely a week goes by without major retailers announcing a cut in their outlets around the country – Debenhams being the latest with a cull of 50 stores meaning another big name will disappear from many town centres.

Town centres set for much-needed boost

But the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s proposals could see unused shops and business properties in towns redeveloped as places to live, along similar lines to what has already happened to transform the city centres of Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool.

The Chancellor also revealed that the government will consult on relaxing planning rules, allowing some of the 50,000 empty shops in the country’s towns and cities to be turned into residential homes.

The planning reform consultation document stated, “National planning policy is clear…we should make effective use of previously developed land and buildings, including the airspace above existing buildings, to create new homes.”

The move was welcomed by the Federation of Master Builders, whose chief executive Brian Berry said: “It is estimated that as many as 300,000 to 400,000 new homes alone could be created by making use of empty spaces above shops on our high streets. There is a pressing need to re-invent many of our town centres in light of changing patterns of retail and leisure. The Government should be applauded for its ambition to safeguard the life of our high streets.

“We would urge councils to take this opportunity to look again at how they can work with local builders and developers to make better use of existing town centre building and facilitate the development of wasted space above shops.”

Some transformation of smaller city and town centres has already taken place, with Preston in Lancashire one example of where investment has led to major regeneration with multiple beneficial side effects.

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