With the publication of the latest planning bill and with the delivery of housing inextricably linked to the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda, you could be forgiven for thinking that the spotlight is off the non-residential property sectors currently. This is far from the case. Across government departments, notably MHCLG and BEIS, thought is being given as to how the commercial, retail and leisure sectors can drive a post-COVID recovery.
It has become a truism, but the COVID-19 pandemic has brought immense pressures across the non-residential property sector. This is unlikely to abate in the near future. At the same time policymakers across national, regional and local levels will be looking to the industry to play a constructive role in shaping and transforming communities, with a specific focus on town centres across the UK.
Among the items on the government’s agenda that the sector should be thinking about – and engaging with – are:
- ‘Levelling-up’ is not going away. Delivering improvements for communities across the country – with town-centre renewal at the heart – will remain a core priority. For voters in ‘red wall’ seats, delivering on this provides evidence that the administration they placed their trust in is repaying their faith. As such, it forms a core part of the government’s political strategy for the coming period.
- There are ambitions for an ‘infrastructure-led’ recovery. Linked to ‘levelling-up’ there is a renewed focus in getting the infrastructure right at a local level to unlock growth and make non-residential development (as well as housing) more viable. The move towards implementing an Infrastructure Levy, replacing S106 contributions, is viewed as critical in achieving this, making the system more efficient but also providing greater flexibility to enable authorities and developers to work together to put in place the infrastructure improvements that will benefit communities.
- Learning from the COVID-19 experience. Whether it is adapting to flexible and hybrid approaches to working, or understanding how retail has adapted to a greater ‘al-fresco’ culture, figures across government are keen to explore how to put in place measures to support the continuation of changes that has seen to be beneficial over the past year. Licensing will be one area that is on BEIS and MHCLG’s agenda.
- Ensuring development ‘goes in the right places’. Policymakers see the coming period as an opportunity to transform traditional (and struggling) high street structures, but are wary of a free-for-all and potential gaming of systems. Use of Permitted Development Rights is being scrutinised closely to ensure this is only occurring where there is a genuine need and does not impact centres of viable economic activity. At the other end, efforts to expedite CPO processes to facilitate sites that are ripe for regeneration is being targeted.
- Driving to Net Zero. In order to achieve Net Zero targets, government knows that the performance of the retail sector – and commercial property sector, more widely – is key. Energy efficiency, approaches to sustainability and environmental infrastructure will continue to rise up the agenda as must-haves.