We’ve seen it before with historic shopping arcades in Rhode Island.

Now, it appears that the British government is considering transforming the nation’s growing surplus of abandoned mom-and-pop retail storefronts — there are 7,000 boarded up and vacant shops lining London’s High Streets alone that cost local councils in the ballpark of £350 million per year in lost business — into much-needed housing (thanks, Jeff Bezos!)

As reported by the BBC, government officials have proposed a scheme that would tweak zoning regulations — or planning regulations, across the pond — and allow for the easy conversion of commercial properties into residential ones:

Ministers in the Department of Communities and Local Government say creative thinking is needed because the way we shop has changed, with the rise in internet shopping and changes in lifestyle and working patterns. ‘We need to think creatively about how to help town centres thrive in this new era’ Planning Minister Nick Boles has said. ‘We want to encourage... retail activity into the prime shopping streets in the heart of their town centres and adopt a more relaxed approach to underused retail frontages.'

As mentioned by the BBC, e-commerce is partially to blame for the U.K.’s stock of shuttered brick-and-mortar retail stores along with high tax rates and competition that has led to the demise of thousands of family-owned retailers. While a number of these forsaken High Street shops are eventually taken over by new businesses, a majority sit empty — an eerie reminder of a not-that-too-long-ago era when independent specialty stores ruled supreme and people actually purchases toothbrushes and television sets without the aid of an online shopping basket. Under the new program, a scheme that would ultimately fall under the control of local councils, long-vacant storefronts could be quickly transformed into housing.

Matthew Hopkinson of the Local Data Company, a firm that tracks occupancy and vacancy rates among High Street stores, warns that the scheme should be approached with caution: "There's no point converting [shops] to residential if you don't have the jobs and infrastructure that make people want to go and live there. The reality is, if a place does not operate economically people won't have the money to spend in shops."

Via [SmartPlanet] via [BBC]

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