Retail opinion: change of use for empty retail units?

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Is it time to change the usage of empty retail units to offices and residential? Ben Taylor offers his opinion.

Conversion may work but not in all circumstances.

Various levels of government intervention are key - the temporary relaxation of permitted development rights being a step in the right direction.

However, strategic planning policy is needed focused on making city centres first-class destinations. This combined with direct capital relief, such as reduced VAT on conversion costs, will help tackle viability.

Economy of scale is an issue as many shops in the affected areas are not generally large multiple storey buildings.

This is particularly relevant with offices given the large supply of secondary accommodation in most towns throughout our region, which is supressing values.

Conversion to residential use has a better chance given the rise in funding available for city centre schemes although, again, economies of scale are necessary. Residential could work with the right intervention but relies on getting the heart of the centre working by making it an attractive and vibrant place to live.