Market forces, new planning laws and social change to boost London’s smaller town centres

26th January, 2021

  • KFH has identified the top 10 town centres for retail-to-housing opportunities in London’s outer zones.

  • There is the potential to deliver 16,117 new homes across London’s town centres as a result of the Government’s planning policy changes.

  • With the increased popularity of the 20 minute neighbourhood concept, 80% of residents in the Capital want to live in a community with amenities for all ages.

The latest research by Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward (KFH), one of London’s leading independent property services groups, explores the scale of opportunity for new housing in London’s high streets under the new planning laws.

KFH has identified the top 10 town centres for retail-to-housing opportunities in London’s outer zones

The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the home working trend virtually overnight, especially among office workers. This, coupled with the alignment of favourable policy to revitalise town centres, could result in the next cyclical phase for our cities.

The revival of the high street

The new planning policies, which came into effect in September 2020, along with the Future High Streets Fund, aim to provide a much-needed boost to the supply of new homes by cutting red tape. It will also contribute to the regeneration of town centres, especially in the outer London zones.

To achieve this, the Government has allowed for a wider scope of permitted developments rights (PDR) to be introduced. PDR developments are considered less costly and less time-consuming to build. In high streets where land is at more of a premium, more emphasis is expected to be placed on ‘airspace’ development, with new homes being added on top of existing buildings.

The report highlights the top 10 town centres in terms of the number of vacant commercial units that have the potential to become residential space, as well as the opportunity at Borough level. This is quantified by the amount of vacant retail space, vacant non-retail space, 50% of comparison retail space and any department store space present at ‘District’ level town centres.

To estimate the scale of new housing that could be delivered across London’s town centres, the amount of possible floorspace for each high street was converted into the number of two-bed homes using the average minimum space standards in the Draft New London Plan. Overall, there is the potential to create 16,117 new homes across the Capital, with Croydon, Sutton and Ilford identified as the top three centres for regeneration (see below).

John East, Land and New Homes Director at KFH, comments: “The Mayor of London and councils need to work together to adapt to new demands from their residents, while at the same time managing the often conflicting objectives of central government. This includes accelerating new home delivery, rejuvenating the high street and meeting green targets.”

The 20 minute neighbourhood

Lockdowns and the growing green movement are adding weight to the 20 minute neighbourhood concept. The premise is that everyday amenities, such as shops, schools, workplaces, medical centres, banks, gyms and parks, should be within a 20 minute walk or cycle from home.

During the pandemic, the focus has switched to helping residents move safely within their neighbourhood, for example by providing temporary cycle lanes and wider pavements. This has enlivened many of London’s high streets.

With 80% of London residents looking to live in a community with amenities for all ages, this concept can foster a sense of community and connection to a place. It will enable residents to socialise locally, support local businesses and enjoy local parks.

John adds: “The legacy of the pandemic could be the renaissance of our local town centres. Many places within inner London are already 20 minute neighbourhoods and this is what makes them highly sought-after. The concept’s popularity is the reason why centres in the Capital’s outer zones should embrace this city design narrative, especially as new housing is set to become a key component in the evolution of town centres over the coming years.”

Click here to read the report: From selling to dwelling Re-thinking London’s local high streets