Over the last few years we have seen the demise of some historic names in British retail such as Woolworths and BHS. The collapse of these two companies, along with many others, has increased the raft of property available on the UK high street. Prior to the online revolution many of these retail sites would have been snapped up but things have changed in recent times. As a consequence, there is a need for both government and local authorities to make full use of high street properties many of which are now left empty and often derelict.
Rebalancing the supply/demand ratio
There are few towns, cities and villages around the UK where shops have not closed, long-term businesses gone under and employment is proving more difficult to obtain. While there obviously needs to be a buoyant local economy to attract investment on any level there is potential scope to redevelop previous retail outlets into flats and other more modern/workable sites.
When you bear in mind the ongoing supply/demand imbalance in the UK housing market you would have thought that governments and local authorities would be all over the empty high streets. There have been some schemes and redevelopment carrots dangled to potential investors but much more needs to be done and quickly. There is nothing worse than walking down a once busy high street to see an array of shops closed down and empty retail outlets – this does not help businesses located in this environment. Depression breeds depression and there is a need to break the cycle.
Is social housing the answer?
Villages, towns and cities across the UK are now crying out for more social housing and buy to let properties. Surely there is scope to redevelop many of these often multi-storey previous retail outlets into single or multiple occupancy flats?
It is also worth bearing in mind that any social housing developments will obviously create new jobs for the area, attract new investment and could literally change the look and feel of a street and region. There is evidence of some previous retail outlets being redeveloped into flats and housing but the rate of movement is excruciatingly slow. Perhaps the UK government needs to introduce more incentives and tax breaks to social housing investors? Perhaps the authorities need to undertake these developments within the public sector thereby maintaining control of a new portfolio of social housing?
No need to look to the countryside
The vast majority of new housing developments in the UK seem to be located on the edge of villages, towns and cities. While there are obvious benefits to locating new developments in these areas, could investors be missing a trick? The redevelopment of inner-city streets has the potential to attract greater investment in the short, medium and longer term and breathe new life into struggling areas.
There are existing tax breaks with regards to business rates if a property is left empty for a period of time but where are the incentives to redevelop? Where is the push from the local authorities to increase their stock of social housing? Are we really missing a great opportunity?