St Albans set for more coffee shops following planning reforms

One thing St Albans isn't short of is coffee shops, with Nkora and Caffe Nero being two of many. Pic

One thing St Albans isn't short of is coffee shops, with Nkora and Caffe Nero being two of many. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

New changes to planning law could spell the death of the high street as we know it according to one local commercial property expert.

From September 1, a government overhaul of use classes – which set out what a commercial property can be used for – will allow more flexibility for change of use.

Class A1 (shops), Class A2 (financial/professional services) and Class A3 (cafes/restaurants) will now make up a new Class E, with no planning permission needed to switch between uses.

Matthew Bowen from Aitchison Raffety said: “The fear will be that centres such as St Albans will lose normal retail space and there will be an even higher prevalence of coffee shops and restaurants and this will hurt the remaining retail operators.

“This could also impact tenants of retail units who have their rent now compared to historically higher rate per square foot operators, such as restaurants. Rent reviews could be a minefield until a precedence is set in court.”

Matthew said people who own flats above retail units that become restaurants could also find themselves worse off. “As well as the noise and disruption it is likely to have a negative effect on the values and some banks won’t lend on flats above restaurants,” he said.

The government hope that the changes will lead to more people visiting town centres, while allowing struggling premises to change use without the usual red tape.

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Matthew said: “We often see small shops in some locations constantly being vacant or having a succession of businesses which fail and this is a negative for all.

“If for instance a 600sq ft shop became an office then this may bring in a further 10 people who work, eat and use the retail everyday which will benefit all and it certainly would help in some of the areas with higher vacancy rates.”

He added that the changes, which were announced in July, have “come as somewhat of a surprise even for planning specialists and they are coming in quickly.

“In a time of great change generally this will add to it, but it may be a saviour for our retail centres which have seen a downturn in numbers of customers and a switch to online shopping habits.

“If the result is less vacancy in urban centres then this would seem to benefit all. However, we won’t know for a number of years.”