With news of the collapse of Debenhams and Arcadia, we cannot help but wonder what will become of our high streets?
Even before COVID-19 our high streets were contracting and organisations across the country were pontificating on the shape of our high streets and their role going forward. COVID-19 has accelerated this contraction.
The introduction of the new use class E in the summer was timely. Generally speaking, properties currently being used for retail purposes can be repurposed as cafes, restaurants, gyms, health centres, day nurseries and for some light industrial uses without the need to secure planning permission.
This has meant that retail units, like those presently occupied by Debenhams and Topshop, can more easily be repurposed. It seems likely that the alternative uses, where planning permission is not required for the conversion, will be the ones commonly seen on the high street.
There are other hurdles to repurposing retail units, for example:
- Does the new use demand the occupier hold a premises licence? Will the local authority be willing to provide the same?
- Will the retail unit need to be adapted for its new use? Is this practical and financial viable? Will listed buildings consent or planning permission be required to carry out these works? What warranties will be on offer from the person carrying out the works? Will the landlord or the new tenant carry out these works?
- Is there a person with a superior interest in the retail unit, to the person repurposing the unit (i.e. a head landlord)? Will their consent be required to the change of use and to the works to be carried out? If there is a proposal to divide the unit into multiple smaller units, is this something that will be permitted?
- Is the retail unit currently charged? Will the lenders consent be required?
- Is there demand for the repurposed unit at the right price?
If these hurdles can be surmounted, then the collapse of Debenhams and Arcadia should not see the demise of the high street, but be the start of a facelift for the high street.