Online House Hunter: Shops or houses?
THE battle for the town centre has begun. And Mary Portas, “the Queen of Shops” has been recruited by David Cameron to save town centre shops and reverse the fortunes of the beleagued UK shopping centres. But there are those who say it’s time to throw in the towel and admit that out-of-town stores and online shopping have killed off the traditional shopping centres. Organisations such as the think tank Policy Exchange suggest it’s better to convert those empty shops and offices into homes.
In a briefing document issued in March, Policy Exchange suggested a relaxation of planning rules to allow empty shops and offices to easily convert to housing. More Homes Fewer Empty Buildings was compiled by Alex Morton and Richard Ehrman who argued that relaxing the planning rules to make it easier to convert commercial property would encourage investment, increase regeneration and create large numbers of jobs. Mr Morton said: “We have rates of vacancy among commercial buildings nearly six times that of empty housing. That is a major indictment of our current system. Just because a building has always been a shop or offices shouldn’t have to mean it stays that way forever.”
The government is looking at ways of allowing empty offices to convert more easily to housing but preferred to make one last fight for shops. Enter stage right, Mary Portas. But irrespective of whether she succeeds or not, there will always be the opportunity to live right in a town centre. Just imagine – no worries about travelling to the shops or parking when you get there; you simply step out your front door, walk to the shops and easily pop back home with those heavy shopping bags. Or just imagine – you come home after a long day’s work and instead of peace and quiet you get the noise and clatter of the late-night shop or video store disturbing you. There are pluses and minuses with living in a town centre. It can, for instance, mean more space for your buck, particularly if you’re happy literally living above an office or shop.
Some councils have taken steps to positively encourage people into living in town centers with initiatives such as “living above the shop” and “live and work”. The Housing Executive in Northern Ireland for instance has Town Centre Living Initiative Areas. They give landlords grant aid to convert upper floors of shops or office buildings into flats or to convert commercial properties into flats or houses. And if you’re looking at successful conversions of empty offices into flats how about Butlers Wharf, St Saviours Dock and other conversions along the Thames?
There will be those who enjoy the convenience and buzz of living in a town centre and those who prefer the peace and quiet of the suburbs. Only time will tell whether society has decided the shop is dead and the quaint 20th century pastime of shopping has run its course.
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