Greg Clark signals boost for ‘meanwhile uses’ of empty buildings

Planning Minister Greg Clark reported on the 25th June that the Government could scrap red tape in order to encourage ‘meanwhile uses’ of empty buildings, transforming them into new shops, business start-ups, and community projects.

Empty properties can lead to a spiral of decline, spoil high streets, and act as a magnet for anti-social behaviour. Meanwhile uses are a way of putting a vacant space back into good use for the benefit of the whole community while a permanent solution is found.

In London’s Exmouth Market, for example, a shop lying empty for two years has been transformed by social enterprise Meanwhile Space into a hub offering space to business start-ups and community-focused projects. Shop space has already been booked by a furniture business and a vintage wares store eager to try out their business idea.

Mr Clark believes that it should be easier for businesses and communities to arrange meanwhile uses for empty buildings without having to jump through unnecessary hoops in the planning system.

The Minister today signalled that the Government could scrap rules requiring costly and time consuming planning permission in order to temporarily change the use of empty buildings, as part of a future wider review on deregulating the used class orders system.

This could help reinvigorate local high streets, encourage community enterprises, support entrepreneurs to start-up, contribute to economic growth, and help build stronger, more vibrant communities.

Mr Clark commented:

“Empty properties can drain the life away from town centres and are a waste of a valuable social and economic resource. We want to make it easier for businesses and community enterprises to reanimate vacant spaces, helping to revive struggling high streets and kick-start local growth.

“Removing bureaucratic barriers in the planning system could play a major part in encouraging meanwhile uses of empty buildings, transforming them into new shops, business start-ups and community projects.”

Removing the need for planning permission to temporarily change the use of empty buildings could be a key part of a future Government consultation on deregulating the use class order system.

The Government has announced a full review of national planning policy by 2012. It is already consulting on allowing commercial property to be changed into residential property without needing planning permission. This could potentially create 70,000 new homes over 10 years.

The Plan for Growth, published alongside the Budget in March, set out a radical structure of reform to help deliver balanced and sustainable growth in the long term. Modification of the planning system is a key element of that and the announcement is hopefully another step towards creating the right conditions for businesses to start up, invest and grow.

27th June 2011