At the recent NLA Sounding Board Meeting Stewart Murray, Strategic Director for Economic Growth at Waltham Forest, said that the borough was about to announce its new COVID-focused High Street strategies to support local business. The plans would include the use of vacant shops, meanwhile uses, the creation of new workspaces, business support and high street improvements. More flexibility was needed in use class orders, he said, to assist in the regeneration of the high street.
Deirdra Armsby, Director of Place Shaping and Town Planning at the City of Westminster agreed that use class orders are “totally out of date”. Stuart Baillie, Head of Town Planning at Knight Frank said that “greater flexibility is required to deal with new hybrid uses” and with the increase in working from home or from local hubs.
The discussion raised issues which have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. The increase in internet shopping, which has impacted negatively on the high street for some time, has accelerated in recent weeks; restaurant and retail businesses are increasingly endangered. If high streets are to fight back, they will need greater flexibility in permitted uses.
The sort of new uses might include collection centres for internet deliveries, medical and social services, start-up businesses, cultural offers and work spaces - “workspaces with a cafe rather than a cafe that permits you to work” as one board member put it.
Planning lawyer Nigel Hewitson of Gowling WLG, writing in The Planner magazine has suggested a new A1 use class that would encompass not just traditional shops and financial services but also many of the new 21st century uses mentioned above.
The Communities Secretary has announced he is permitting pubs and restaurants to operate as hot food takeaways to serve people having to stay at home, but these will only apply for a limited period.
The increase in home working over recent years, which has accelerated as a result of the pandemic will impact in the way that people use their homes. Case law already accepts that a business can lawfully be run from a home without the need for planning permission but, as the incidence of home/business use increases, it would be wise to redefine ‘dwelling’ to expressly include home working, according to Hewitson.