Empty shops to be turned into new homes, Boris Johnson announces

Rob Merrick
Reuters TV

Empty shops will be quickly converted into new homes as pandemic restrictions take their toll on struggling High Streets, through a planning rules bonfire.

Developers will be able to demolish and rebuild redundant buildings for housing without a normal planning application, Boris Johnson has announced.

However, the prime minister has ignored calls for a huge spending boost to prevent a “catastrophic” fall in new homes because of coronavirus – despite vowing to “build build build” in a major speech.

Under the changes – to be fast-tracked for September – homeowners will also be able to add extra floors to their properties through a fast track process, “subject to neighbour consultation”.

Mr Johnson promised that pubs, libraries, village shops and other facilities “essential to the lifeblood of communities” will still be protected by normal planning rules.

But the bonfire of rules was immediately condemned by the countryside charity CPRE, which warned: “Deregulating planning and cutting up red tape simply won’t deliver better quality places.

“It’s already far too easy to build poor quality homes. Transferring decision making power from local councils and communities and handing them to developers is the exact opposite of building back better.”

Overnight, the housing Shelter pleaded with the prime minister to accelerate a £12bn pot for so-called “affordable housing” to spend it in two years, instead of five.

It predicted that housebuilding will otherwise tumble from 255,000 new homes built last year to just 171,000 this year, worsening the country’s housing crisis, in a report with the estate agents Savills.

But, speaking in the West Midlands, Mr Johnson said he was “confirming” that the programme would take place as planned, which he described as “over the next 8 years”.

Instead, he has pledged to accelerate £5bn of infrastructure spending for hospital maintenance, new schools, court upgrades and road upgrades – but not for climate change-busting measures.

The prime minister blamed a lack of homes on “newt-counting delays” in the planning system – rather than a lack of cash – saying: “Time is money.”

The delays were “a massive drag on the productivity and prosperity of this country”, adding: “We will build better and we will build greener, but we will also build faster.”

Mr Johnson did allocate £400m from an existing ‘brownfield land fund to the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, Liverpool City Region, Sheffield City Region, and North of Tyne and Tees Valley, to support around 24,000 homes.

And the ‘home builders fund’ will receive an extra £450m, although this is to “help smaller developers access finance for new housing developments”, rather than direct grants.

A planning policy paper in July will outline “comprehensive reform of England’s seven-decade old planning system”, the prime minister said.

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