Blog: The Government’s Intended Planning Shake-Up could be a Major Game Changer for the Hospitality Sector

July 27, 2020

Way back at the beginning of lockdown I wrote my last opinion piece. It seems like an age ago.  The concept of social distancing hadn’t been invented and now seems to be something we are going to have to get used to for many months and maybe years as progress on a vaccine appears much slower than we thought would be the case.

The main focus of my opinion then was the need for government to free business of the shackles of bureaucracy and controls in order to stimulate the economy. Specifically, I raised the need to address planning controls and restrictions.

I was therefore delighted to hear that the government intends the biggest shack up of planning since WWII. This is long overdue. I hope and pray that they go on to execute this competently.

The crisis in the housing sector is well documented and universally acknowledged. We have not built anywhere near enough homes – for decades.  The crisis in the high street long pre-dates COVID-19. It isn’t only retail that faces challenges, the jury is out as to the future for offices – will we need as much in the future? That debate is raging.  Then there is the corporate hotel market in town centres which needs to adapt to a changing market particularly in respect of business travel.

The opportunities to convert redundant commercial premises of all kinds to residential is going to be all around us.

Now is the time to loosen the shackles and re-energise town and city centres with residential. We need local authorities to take the lead here to facilitate conversion of commercial areas and buildings into residential uses.

There is huge potential for multiple uses in buildings. Live-work space is an obvious example. Many people are exploring the concept of what is essentially student halls of residence type living – for grown-ups! There is surely scope to create spaces that can be used formally as both living and working space – maybe including shared meeting lounge areas these could include coffee shops, cafés, why not private top-notch cinema space. The potential is huge if we have the vision to implement. I don’t have a crystal ball and I’m the innovative type – but I do sense now is a great time to embrace change – in one form or another.

I fully accept that the there are many practical difficulties to overcome. The first step is recognising the opportunity to change the vision of town and city centres. The benefits will be considerable in terms of the environment; less commuting and travel stronger neighbourhoods and social cohesion and perhaps most importantly, we can resolve the housing crisis with minimum impact on green field land.

Housing development must be directed into city centres. Too often the house builders persuade government that development must be greenfield and not brown field. I really do hope that the government does not fall into this elephant trap when de-regulating planning.

Introducing temporary changes to licensing in respect of outdoor spaces suggests the government does get the need to facilitate businesses to recover. Let’s hope they have a clear vision for the future of planning.

Abandoning the bureaucratic, time consuming and onerous requirements on people seeking to convert a pub to an alternative use would be a good place to start. This certainly would not help my particular business as I am heavily involved writing viability reports for clients on these matters – but it would accelerate and free up much needed development.

I am watching and waiting with interest to see how the government takes this initiative forward – which will be a major game changer for the whole country if they are as bold as they say they want to be.

The impact on asset values will be enormous and opportunities for brave hearted entrepreneurs to capitalise will be considerable.  Bring it on Boris!