Report says 45,000 new homes could be built on empty sites in UK town and city centres

There is around eight million square meters of vacant space in town and city centres across the UK, a third of which could be used to deliver 45,000 new homes, according to a new report.

The report, Making Sense of Mixed Use Town Centres from planning and development consultancy Turley says that a proactive mixed-use development strategy could help to address the current housing crisis but at the same time it should not be assumed that retail in High Streets is dead.

The creation of 45,000 new homes is based on the assumption that new residential developments do not exceed the height of existing buildings and the report points out that many more homes could be delivered if taller buildings are considered.

‘Securing the future of our town centres is a critical national issue and one that is rightly getting a lot of attention. These centres are vital to residents, communities and businesses alike and are engines of economic growth. It is vital that these areas are allowed to evolve and that the planning system is match fit to support this,’ said Richard Laming, senior director, head of economics, at Turley.

‘Our report is an attempt to put forward a positive vision for the future amidst the negativity that currently dominates the conversation. This starts with debunking the myth that the high street is dead,’ he added.

Planning team director Paul Keywood said that there needs to be balance in terms of planning. ‘We believe that for these centres to continue to succeed and serve the needs of their communities they need to embrace a mixed-use future where the balance of uses shifts from what we have traditionally seen,’ he explained.

‘A whole place but bespoke approach to each centre, that considers what is needed to make these places attractive and useful for communities and businesses, is essential,’ he added.

Land Agents Aston Mead backed the findings of the report. ‘We should see this is as an opportunity rather than a problem. If we started creating new properties where there are currently vacant buildings, thousands of homes could be built,’ said land and planning director Charles Hesse.

‘We should stop seeing High Streets solely as places to shop, and start to recognise them as potential residential centres as well. There are plenty of people who would love to live right in the heart of the action, and having more people move into our town centres would turn them into more vibrant and dynamic areas,’ he explained.

‘We’ve all had the experience of walking through high streets in the evening, only to find them deserted, resembling ghost towns, with no real activity until the start of the next working day. They can feel unsafe and unloved, and are hardly enjoyable places to visit,’ he pointed out.

‘By contrast, more people living in the middle of towns would mean that they would continue to be lively even after the shops were closed, helping footfall in local pubs, theatres and restaurants. Having more people around would make them safer, turn them into desirable destinations after dark, and at last breathe life back into our town centres,’ he added.