Richard Ellard, head of the commercial property team at Thomson Snell & Passmore, comments on research showing a growing retail divide in England, with the number of vacant shops in the North now double the number in the South.
"In terms of the future for empty retail units, there are 'permitted development rights' that apply to most retail properties.
All it requires is the completion of a relatively straightforward form, so the application process is smaller and quicker than a full planning application, which you would need if you were to demolish the shop and rebuild it as a residential property.
However, you can only use this on up to 150 sq m [1,615 sq ft] of retail space - that's about three one-bedroom apartments - so turning to residential might be an option for some of the vacant units, but not all of them.
I've not come across too many retail-to-residential schemes and the question is: why not? Old shops don't make brilliant homes and, in some parts of the country that are affected by empty shops, you tend to find the lack of demand for retail goes hand-in-hand with a lack of demand for housing."
Comments first published in the article ‘Analysis: How to combat the North-South retail divide’ by Luke Tugby and Suzanne Bearne in Retail Week.