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Overhaul outdated planning policies to benefit restaurants and cafés, says planning expert Clive Cunio

11th May 2017

New life could be breathed into Britain’s high streets if outdated planning restrictions were restructured to provide a better balance of retail and restaurant/leisure outlets.

Despite increasing demand for restaurant and café proposals in town centres, restrictive planning policies are effectively pushing operators away from the high street.

Recent studies show retail spend on the high street rises considerably with an improved catering offer.

But local councils are prioritising the retention of retail uses and now restaurant operators are questioning high streets as possible locations for new outlets due to delays, costs and uncertainties about likely outcomes on possible future plans.

The demand for restaurant space is there. There has been a surge in applications for new openings and to extend existing floor space. For example, Caulmert recently secured permission for additional covers for Carluccio’s in South Kensington and has new applications in for TGI Fridays.

In addition, al fresco dining is becoming more popular as part of the café culture developing in this country. People want to sit outside to observe what is going on, but also for them to be seen. This activity brings increased liveliness and vibrancy to the high street. This has led to more proposals for external tables and chairs.

However, it can often be difficult and time consuming to secure permissions for restaurant uses within traditional high streets. Many buildings are protected, both internally and externally, due to their listed or conservation area status.

Many premises within the traditional high street are constrained by a number of factors including nearby residential properties and issues related to the location and appearance of extract flues (eg noise and odours).

Also, restaurant signage can be difficult to secure on listed buildings and in conservation areas.

As a result of such restrictions and uncertainties, which lead to delays and added costs, operators are increasingly looking at out of centre locations including retail parks.

These sites tend to have already secured planning permission. The client is just handed a shell to fit out and occupy. Given their location, there are significantly fewer issues.

For councils to avoid this situation, there needs to be a comprehensive leisure-based strategy put in place for many of our declining high streets to attract restaurants and cafés. As well as focusing on the numerous benefits that they can bring, they should provide support, advice and guidance to prospective operators to encourage them to the high street.

Outdated retail retention policies need to be comprehensively overhauled, to ensure that the high street once again becomes the lively, vibrant and attractive place where people want to spend time and money.

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