Homes on our high streets

This 2017 report explores the potential for more housing on the high street, arguing there is untapped potential to create additional homes, for example above shops, to meet housing demand and to revitalise high streets. It acknowledges the challenge of doing so but proposes a series of recommendations as to how these can be overcome. Six case studies are also presented: Bishop’s Stortford, Bridgend, Castleford, Harrow, Motherwell, and Stratford-upon-Avon.

Date added 5 October 2021
Last updated 5 October 2021

This report explores the potential for more housing on the high street, for instance over shops or by repurposing vacant spaces. Although it explains how this idea is not a new one – for instance the ‘Living Over the Shop’ project (1989- late 2000s) - it suggests it could be further harnessed today in response to affordable housing shortage in the UK, and to revitalise local high streets by potentially enhancing footfall.

The study this report documents is based on a mixed quantitative and qualitative analysis of six diverse case study towns: Bishop’s Stortford, Bridgend, Castleford, Harrow, Motherwell, and Stratford-upon-Avon. The study involved analysis of secondary quantitative data and policy documents, high street architecture, and considerations of redevelopment options based on typical high street buildings. From this analysis, a series of typologies for consideration are presented, including: intervention types, residential access options, high street building types, and complexity of development.

The case studies, though each unique, shared a number of key opportunities and challenges to providing homes on the high street, as summarised below:

  • There are opportunities to create residential accommodation above shops in all town types.
  • Appropriate access and servicing is crucial, which depends on building type.
  • Collective agreements across property owners is important as this can be fragmented, as well as collaboration between public and private sectors.
  • Local economic strength is integral for housing development and viability.
  • Building age, type, and structure are key considerations.
  • There are important building regulations to take into account.
  • Planning policy often neglects residential development in or around high streets.

The report concludes by proposing the following recommendations to overcome the above challenges, and to foster more housing on the high street (p.3):

1. Local authorities should explicitly make reference to building homes above shops on the high street within their various planning documents.

2. Local authorities should help find ways to overcome disparate ownership to make redevelopment of residential units easier.

3. Central government should make available low cost loans, grants and fiscal incentives.

4. Local authorities, local community groups and developers should work collaboratively with property owners.

5. The ability of local community groups should be harnessed to catalyse development.