Changing commercial buildings into residential property could help solve the problem of escalating vacancy rates on the British high street, according to one respected retail consultant.
Jonathan De Mello, Head of Retail Consultancy at real estate firm CB Richard Ellis (CBRE), argues that a strategy to change the function of empty shops across the UK would be beneficial to both the housing market and wider communities.
As larger retailers appear increasingly keen on opening sites in out-of-town locations or purpose-built shopping centres, diversifying high streets could be the answer to reducing vacant space and helping boost footfall in shops that continue to operate.
“With recent retailer administrations such as Habitat, Jane Norman and TJ Hughes adding to the UK’s already high vacancy rate, it is clear that concerted action needs to be taken in order to regenerate some of our more blighted high streets,” said De Mello.
His comments come after a prediction from the Council of Mortgage Lenders, made at the end of June, that there will be a lull in house purchase completions over the next few months, while privately-rented accommodation rent rates, particularly in London and the south-east, grow steadily.
Landlords left with the costly situation of paying mortgages for empty properties they own on the high street may be able to tap into the residential market, which De Mello says has much lower vacancy rates than the commercial sector.
The CBRE representative has urged both national and local government to recognise that action must be taken to reinvigorate UK high streets.
“As well as the clear benefit such regeneration would bring to these centres, it also makes good business sense for the owners of these currently vacant commercial properties,” he explained.
“Despite the current shortage of housing available to first-time buyers, there are more than a quarter of a million vacant commercial units in the UK, many of which are left empty or derelict.
“Not only would property owners be helping to halt the spiral of decline some of our towns are currently witnessing therefore – they should also be able to make a considerable amount of money too.”