October 2021 saw a new document published from the House of Commons Library in the form of a briefing paper (number 9218). It’s opening summary states: “The future of town centres and high streets has long been a matter of concern, with the most recent debate in the House of Commons in December 2020. This briefing, highlights some of the key trends and discussions”

With 56 pages on town centre regeneration, the topics cover everything from the developments and challenges to planning matters. One of first the interesting statistics is: “What properties make-up the average British high street?
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), around one third of addresses on British high streets belonged to retail shops in March 2020. Over half were residential, 10% were offices and 2–3% were leisure or community facilities”.

The trends in retail are also explored in this briefing paper. The Covid-19 pandemic obviously created enormous challenges and with non-essential retail being closed, and the restrictions imposed on customers, some high street names, as well as individual shops, have never reopened. This shift in our shopping habits from town centres to out of town retail parks, and the incredible online phenomenon, which was inflated with the pandemic and lockdown, created a loss of retail within communities which has not yet been evaluated. There are calls for an “online tax” to be explored, but the government have said there are no plans at the moment. It seems that to introduce such a tax would require a huge undertaking to identify which businesses and which transactions it might cover. For example, establishing the difference between an online business which uses couriers to deliver, from a “click and collect” service, which still operates all transactions online, but the products are collected in person from a location.

In September 2020, changes were made in the “permitted development and change of use” of high street premises, with amendments to the existing categories. The government spokesperson talked of “cutting out unnecessary bureaucracy” and renewing town centres, but this wasn’t well received by several organisations, including the Royal Town Planning Institute and the Royal Institute of British Architects, who worried about the safeguards on minimum space, building and design standards, and contributions towards affordable housing and community infrastructure, to ensure that homes built in the early 2020s did not become the “social disasters of the 2030s”

To read the full document please go to: https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/CBP-9218/CBP-9218.pdf