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Pop-up shops and entrepreneurs to prosper from high street changes

New proposals to re-activate empty shops and reclaim underused street space Communities Secretary Eric Pickles today highlighted government…

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

New proposals to re-activate empty shops and reclaim underused street space

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles today highlighted government proposals to scrap restrictions that put off start-up businesses from temporarily using empty high street shops that can help attract shoppers back to more family friendly town centres.

Temporary or ‘pop-up’ shops often utilise vacant high street premises until a permanent tenant can be found. One of the barriers to start-up firms can be planning rules that control what type of business a shop can and can’t be used for.

The proposals would scale back the red tape that causes shop owners costly delays securing planning permission, over £1200 on average, before a disused shop can be used for a different purpose. Landlords would instead be free to temporarily change the use of an empty shop for two years, something currently not automatically permitted.

Experts say high street footfall has dropped two per cent on last year while the national high street vacancy rate remains at eleven per cent. Mr Pickles thinks empty properties are a wasted economic opportunity spoiling towns and attracting anti-social behavior.

Minsters believe this deregulation can help reinvigorate the high street by opening up more affordable places for entrepreneurs to launch start-up businesses, which in turn will re-energise local economies, end the blight of boarded up shops and help landlords meet property costs. Standard temporary leases are also available making it simpler to agree.

For example two young entrepreneurs in Willesden Green were able to turn a 15 year vacant building into a pop-up boutique, called Roses and Strings, selling handcrafted gifts and accessories after agreeing a special £250 a month deal with the landlord.

The Government has committed over £80 million to provide start-up loans for young entrepreneurs, which could create over 30,000 new businesses. The steps being highlighted today will make it easier for start-ups to find low-cost stores to set up in.

A new guide also published today shows how use of high street areas can help attract customers. Re-imagining urban spaces to help revitalise our high streets identifies ways to lure shoppers into town by making it a more social experience, as recommended by Mary Portas. Ideas include removing street clutter for pedestrians, more street stalls and pop-up shops as well as attractions like pavement cafes, play areas, outdoor libraries or street entertainment.

Eric Pickles said:

Shopping habits are changing and the high street must respond. The trip to town needs to be worthwhile. In just the same way as the cinema offers a better movie going experience than TV the high street needs to come up with ways to give it an edge over internet deals and out of town shopping centres.

Leaving empty shops to rot is a wasted economic opportunity that spoils the town centre - that is why we are proposing to scrap the damaging red tape that is keeping so many boarded up. This change can unleash our young entrepreneurs to open pop-up shops and turn the high streets into an exciting start-up launch pad.

Reclaiming dreary unused street space can breathe new life into high streets - by decluttering streets for pedestrians, creating a lively atmosphere with pavement cafes, pop-up shop spots and entertainment so they are more family friendly fun place to go.

Notes to editors

  1. As part of its Plan for Growth the Government announced a review of how change of use is handled in the planning system in order to look at reducing the planning burden and support economic growth.

Planning permission is usually required for anything that is considered to be a ‘material’ change of use. In general, planning permission is required for ‘development’. Change of use can be considered as ‘development’ and therefore under the current legislation change of use can require planning permission.

The cost of a planning application can vary for the applicant. The Arup report finds that the average cost of a change of use planning application is around £1,245 and could vary between £290 and £3,370. The average mean of £1,250 has been taken as the best estimate. This includes administrative costs such as preparing the application and the fees paid.

Secondary legislation (the Use Classes Order introduced in 1972) defines broad classes of use for buildings or other land and provides that a change of use is not ‘development’ where the former use and the new use are both within the same use class. It is almost 10 years since the last substantial review of the approach to change of use.

There are four main categories:

  • Class A covers shops and other retail premises such as restaurants and bank branches
  • Class B covers offices, workshops, factories and warehouses
  • Class C covers residential uses
  • Class D covers non-residential institutions and assembly and leisure uses

The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order gives a general planning permission for specified changes of use between classes by classifying them as permitted development.

To open up premises to new businesses and allow redundant buildings to be brought back into use Government consulting on a proposal to allow temporary uses of certain existing high street buildings. This would be for certain specified new uses for a period of 2 years.

Removing these restrictions on a temporary basis for empty buildings would open up premises, which otherwise would make no contribution to the local economy. This will boost high street and local area regeneration helping encourage start up businesses.

The Government consultation is proposing action in the following key areas:

  • To create permitted development rights to assist change of use from existing buildings used for agricultural purposes to uses supporting rural growth;
  • To increase the thresholds for permitted development rights for change of use between B1 (business/office) and B8 (warehouse) classes and from B2 (industry) to B1 and B8;
  • To introduce a permitted development right to allow the temporary use of certain for two years, where the use would be low impact, without the need for planning permission.
  • To provide C1 (hotels, boarding and guest houses) permitted development rights to convert to C3 (dwelling houses) without the need for planning permission; and
  • To consider if any updates or amendments are needed to the existing descriptions within the use classes order.

More details can be found here:

  1. Last year the Government invited Mary Portas to carry out an independent review into the high street. It made ambitious recommendations for how - Government, councils and business - can put the heart back into high streets, re-imagined as exciting social hubs for shopping learning, socialising and having fun. The Government’s response has included:
  • Twelve town centres selected as the first ‘Portas Pilots’ tasked with coming up with new ideas to breathe life into underused high streets. Each will receive a slice of £1.2 million and a tailored package of support. A further round of pilots is expected to be announced later this month.
  • A multi-million pound High Street Innovation Fund - kick started by £10 million will help bring empty shops back into use - which, if supplemented by councils and landlords, could see £30 million going to support new business start-ups and re-activate many empty properties. A list of the authorities to be paid can be found at:
  • A National Markets Day and Love Your Local Fortnight helped over a thousand aspiring entrepreneurs try out their business ideas at over 300 markets.
  • A £500,000 fund for Business Improvement Districts, to with loans for set-up costs.
  • Small Business Rate Relief in England has been doubled for two and a half years, from 1 October 2010 to 31 March 2013. To make sure no small firm loses out the Localism Act has simplified the process for claiming the tax break to encourage take up by small businesses. More information is available here:
  1. High Street footfall was 2.0 per cent lower than a year ago in the three months to April, while the national town centre vacancy rate in the UK remained at 11 per cent according to the British Retail Consortium. (external link).

  2. Barclay’s data estimates that in 2009, there were 37,100 start-ups by the under 25s, representing nine per cent of the total start-ups in that year in England and Wales. The 2010 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor evidence indicates that 4.9 per cent of 18-24 year olds intended to start-up in the next 3 years or around 100,000 young people. The Household Entrepreneurship Survey (2007) shows that a relatively high proportion (17 per cent) of 18-24 year olds thought about starting a business, buying into an existing business or becoming self-employed, compared to 11 per cent for all age groups. However just 6 per cent of 18-24s were self-employment and owning a business, compared to 14 per cent for the population as a whole. Around 4 per cent (250,000) of 16-24 year-olds had considered starting a business but had not due to financial reasons.

  3. Standard ‘meanwhile use’ leases can be found here: (external link).

Meanwhile Space works with landlords, landowners, developers and local authorities to advise and deliver projects to identify temporary uses for redundant shops, offices, cleared land etc. whilst an appropriate commercial solution is being sought. Eddie Bridgeman, Director, Meanwhile Space CIC said:

Meanwhile Space has been championing this proposed change to planning rules, which will enable start-up businesses to rapidly access redundant high street buildings and bring them back into use. By helping to unlock some of the challenges to the meanwhile use of empty spaces, this will help to reduce the risk for people testing new enterprising or social ideas. Alongside the wider the ambitions of the Portas Review, removing planning red tape can help to breed the diverse activity that is vital to the future success of our high streets.

  1. Re-imagining urban spaces to help revitalise our high streets has been written and produced by the Department for Communities and Local Government as part of its Portas programme of support for high streets. It describes the many different ways to imaginatively to revitalise high streets and town centres - increasing high street vitality, attracting footfall and boosting local economies. Town centres and high streets have buildings and roads, but the spaces in-between are what hold them together as a place - the squares, urban green spaces and the network of streets, pavements and pedestrian thoroughfares that knit them together. All too often, these spaces are used as no more than thoroughfares but they can be so much more. The guide is full of successful case studies, and resources that can help local groups re-imagine the urban spaces in their area to help revitalise their local high streets and town centres. The guide was developed in partnership with 19 expert organisations, including the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, Arts Council England, English Heritage, Design Council, Living Streets, the Association of Town Centre Management, the British Council of Shopping Centres, the Urban Design Group and the Landscape Institute. It can be found here:

  2. Edward Cooke, Director of Policy and Public Affairs at British Council of Shopping Centres said:

Creating vibrant public spaces and encouraging community involvement in town and city centres bolsters places both socially and economically. As retail destinations continue to compete with online and multi-channel retailing, we should remember that the most successful locations benefit from the creation of ‘theatre’ and a sense of place. At this time of enormous change for the retail property industry, we must all work together, taking shared responsibility for the future prosperity of our town centres. The paper the Minister is launching today, showcasing examples of positive and proactive use of shared space, is a valuable contribution to this agenda.

Tony Armstrong, Chief Executive of Living Streets said:

Living Streets welcomes Re-imagining urban spaces to help revitalise our high streets as a useful toolkit which will help local authorities create and maintain safe, attractive town centre and high streets where people want to walk. The principles of naked streets or shared space offers numerous benefits for high streets and town centres including increased footfall and economic benefits provided they are done well and carried out in consultation with local communities. In particular we are pleased to see Living Streets’ Community Street Audit acknowledged in the document as a useful tool to engage local communities in order to tackle the barriers to walk and to identify opportunities to improve high streets and town centres for local people, businesses and shoppers across the country.

Kate Henderson, Chief Executive of Town and Country Planning Association added:

This publication is a welcome call to action to re-imagine our high streets and town centres. In thinking about the future of our public spaces we need to ensure they are attractive, vibrant and accessible to everyone, regardless of age, gender, disability or ethnicity.

Published 20 July 2012