High Street Housing Plans Come Under Fire
Plans to revitalise struggling high streets by relaxing planning restrictions have been criticised for excluding too many areas.
The Government says it wants new "town centre first" rules to cut red tape and allow shops and offices to be turned into housing without the need for planning permission.
But the proposals only cover small properties and exclude those in designated conservation areas and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Town planner David Rhodes, from Knaresbrough, in North Yorkshire, said the Government has missed an opportunity to solve a real problem.
"The need is there, the idea is right, but the tools they're bringing into action aren't going to turn the thing round," he said.
The proposals would bring small shops and offices into so-called permitted development rules, removing the need for a full planning application to be made.
Premises up to 150 square metres or roughly the size of a three bedroom house could be converted to homes, while larger shops could become banks or building societies.
The plans would also permit the conversion of a wide range of commercial property to schools or nurseries and some farm buildings would also become eligible for conversion into schools, nurseries or housing.
Junior Communities and Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis defended the plans as a means of increasing housing stock.
"Retail sites on the outskirts of towns particularly can look at being turned back into residential," he said.
Critics of the scheme say many high streets are in areas excluded from the proposals, while rundown areas which would be eligible are not where people want to live.
Farmers have welcomed the proposed changes to farm building planning controls, with the Country Landowners Association claiming it will boost the rural economy.
CLA north regional director Dorothy Fairburn said: "We all recognise the urgent need for more housing across all our villages and rural areas, so we welcome the proposals."
But the Campaign to Protect Rural England has likened the plans to a "planning free-for-all" which it says would lead to inappropriate development in the countryside.
The proposals are open for consultation for two months.