Flexibility - key to the future high street?


Deptford Market Yard in 2018: conversion of Victorian carriage ramp arches to independent retail uses, and creation of market space adjacent to High Street with new residential above (U+i PLC and Lewisham Council)

Ahead of the UK government's announcements in the coming days on the easing of lock down restrictions, we ran a second online panel discussion on what this will mean for the future of the High Street. Mike Mills, Director at planning consultancy Firstplan, Tim Partington, Board Director at architects Chapman Taylor and Bill Addy, Chair of the Business Improvement Districts (BID) Association all took part.

How many shops will be allowed to open and will there still be strict social distancing measures in place on our high streets? With the high street under pressure before the crisis, how flexible does the high street have to be in terms of range of shops and restaurants? What is the role of office developments around retail and how will social distancing affect the growth of culture in the future high street?

Rigidity around planning classes, potentially preventing innovation flourishing on the high street, was a core theme in our discussions. Mike commented:

'There are new formats around food markets and restaurants coming up and these can be difficult to fit in with traditional property use classes. At Firstplan we act for a number of these operators and the question is whether the model fits in with A1, and the local authority may argue that it does not. This has led to a lot of challenges. What we find is that the 'Uses Classes Order' has a lot of catching up to do if it is to embrace new and innovative models coming to the high street. Are they shops, restaurants, or are they bars or sandwich shops? They may have elements of each and the easy way out is for the local authority to refuse permission.

'One of the successful new models is the Market Food Hall. As the 'Market Hall' brand, it has been popular in the old BHS department store on Oxford Street, and at