Friday, 13 December 2013

Home building needs a hand; retail and profit is often the enemy here too.

A thought occurred to me that the lack of land available to build homes on might have a link to the growth in retail seen over the last two or three decades.

I looked over maps of places I’ve known for more than a decade: the Chorley area and the Manchester area. I recalled buildings etc that existed ten or twenty years ago in certain places and realised something quite worrying but not altogether surprising.

Business premises often stand empty for a long time after companies go out of business or move elsewhere. Whenever something is demolished, be it old run down housing, empty warehouses and business premises etc, it is more often than not replaced with a new retail development of some kind, often a supermarket. Sometimes a supermarket with a petrol station and a row of large retailers. Stores such as Currys, Carpetright, Halfords etc have always used this sort of development but now high street stores are there too: Marks and Spencer, Next, New Look etc. The new stores and office developments tend to be larger than the next nearest alternative, and when the customers/clients cease to use the original stores, they sometimes close even if they were not intended to. This results in town centres becoming quiet and often with many empty shops. And those customers who were still using the shops that are left behind will gradually stop using them too as the decline continues.

I’m well aware that linking town centre closures to out-of-town retail developments is nothing new. But this is the first time I’d thought about the impact on housing. Town centres are not usually the best places to live and as shops close, areas become run down and are even less desirable. So with retailers buying up land – and with councils encouraging this because such projects usually bring in revenue in the short term, where will new houses be built?

We don’t need to build on green field sites; we need councils to look more closely at commercial development proposals and only accept those that use existing commercial sites, or at least carefully consider the availability of land for future housing before giving them the green light. They also must lower town centre business rates, or raise out-of-town rates to match. Public transport may need to be improved and town centre parking will need to be looked at.

Town centre regeneration is a well-known issue and towns need to bring customers back there from the outskirts, leaving those areas free for housing projects. This can work hand-in-hand with the idea of satellite offices I’ve mentioned before.

I'm aware that using my memory to note the changes in of a couple of towns is not a scientific way of viewing the entire problem but wherever I go, I see new, or fairly new out-of-town retail parks so I can only assume this issue is replicated across the country. Something needs to change.. 

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