Greengates Builders Merchants

Turn Shops Into Homes

The traditional high street is dead, says minister, as he suggests shops could become homes.

A Government minister sounded the death knell for traditional high streets as he said empty or boarded up shops should be turned into housing.

Nick Boles, planning minister, will grant local authorities far greater freedom to convert retail premises into private housing as the internet transforms the way Britons shop.

A consultation paper due out this week will suggest councils across England should concentrate their efforts on revitalising shopping to just one or two "prime streets". The rest can be converted.

Insiders said the change would likely see the end of "long straggly shopping streets heading out of town" and shorten existing high streets.

Mr Boles will also allow farmers to convert old agricultural buildings such as cowsheds or stables into housing.

The high street proposals mark a dramatic shift in policy from a Coalition that just two years ago hired 'Queen of Shops' Mary Portas to save high streets up and down the country.

In June, she attacked the Government for continually refusing to commit to the "town centre first" planning policy that was central to her recom­men­dations.

Retail chiefs said Mr Boles' proposals marked the first time a minister had publicly admitted the high street in its traditional sense was beyond saving.

An estimated 14 per cent of high street shops are empty or boarded up after the credit crisis ripped through the retail sector. Big names such as Woolworths and HMV collapsed into admi­nis­tra­tion, with some disappearing for good.

Online shopping accounts for roughly £1 in every £10 spent on retail, and internet sales are growing at a phenomenal rate.

B&Q is among those "shrinking" its stores, in part because of the rise of the web but also to trim its huge business rates bill.

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