Town centre homes will ‘bring more life’ to the area
- Credit: Archant
MORE flats and houses, a greater number of takeaways and coffee shops and national retailers in out-of-town business parks – is this Weston’s high street of the future?
Over the past five years, 36 shops in Weston’s Business Improvement District (BID) area have been granted permission to become flats, takeaways, cafes or other businesses.
The figures come from a freedom of information request to North Somerset Council for the number of change of use planning applications in the BID area.
It shows how 20 businesses and office spaces have also been granted permission to become homes.
This diversification of the town centre is a trend which is likely to increase too, with the new plan to create Weston College’s new university centre in the Winter Gardens predicted to trigger more widespread regeneration.
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The plan has been heralded as a boost for retail which has been ‘positively received’ by Dolphin Square developer McLaren Life, and a likely prompt for further ‘high quality, high density’ housing - with up to 2,000 new homes earmarked for the centre.
The authority’s chief executive Mike Jackson said having more residents in the town centre will support Weston’s trade community.
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And town centre manager Steve Townsend said an increase in residential space can complement businesses.
He said: “I think a residential increase is really good for town centres.
“I think it brings more life to it. People have more ownership and are proud of where they live.
“It’s going to be a significant feature of town centres in the future.
“We will see a lot more residential properties and businesses turning to coffee shops and the high street will all be about stuff you cannot buy on the internet. They will be very much service-based businesses.
“It’s a real evolution, not just in Weston but in high streets across the country.
“Just walk around the town centre - there are a lot more store openings and a lot more independent shops. I think a lot of national retailers will go out of town.”
Applications to convert shops to flats have continued to be submitted to the council.
A consultation to change a ground floor shop at 72 Meadow Street into residential accommodation closes at the end of October.
And with such high housing demand across the district, once the buildings become residential, the figures suggest they are unlikely to be changed back.
Of the hundreds of planning requests to the council, the only change of use applications for flats were to change them to a care home or housing.
As part of the town centre regeneration scheme, around 2,000 new homes could be built in the town centre.
Mr Jackson said: “It is important to recognise retail is struggling in town centres and it is the symptom and not the cause of town centres changing.
“Successful town centres need residents, workers and learners. To support the retail offer in the town we need to have other residents.
“There is a whole lifestyle of people living in urban areas because they spend their income in the immediate vicinity.”
The council also aims to fill empty rooms above shops, including in the Orchard Meadows area.
Mr Townsend added: “There is a national shortage of housing, and we have got vacant space above businesses which I can imagine could all be used for residential.”