Shops on struggling UK high streets should be turned into housing, planning minister Nick Boles is set to recommend this week.
Boles wants to grant local authorities greater freedom to convert retail premises into private housing.
A consultation paper set for publication later this week will suggest that councils across England concentrate on revitalising shopping in just one or two “prime streets”, while the rest can be converted.
The Government has been working to revitalise Britain’s struggling high streets which have come under pressure from a fall in consumer spending since the recession hit in 2008, and the rise of online shopping.
In a Government-backed campaign retail expert Mary Portas developed the Portas Review which made 28 recommendations to Government to save the UK’s high streets. It has also provided funding to towns to pilot her recommendations through the Portas Pilots.
But retail chiefs said Mr Boles’ proposals marked the first time a minister had publicly admitted the high street in its traditional sense was beyond saving, according to the Telegraph.
Former Focus boss Bill Grimsey, who is collating a review on how to help the struggling high street, said: “At last the message is getting through, that there are high streets out there that do need to be considered in a very different way. It’s only going to get worse.
“We have been saying it for some time, high streets cannot continue to serve solely as a retail destination, they have to be seen as a community hub.”
Another executive said: “Given the over expansion into out-of-town shopping, and now the rise of the internet, there is just too much retail space. I think it’s a clear and honest statement by the Minister.”
Mr Boles’ department was unable to provide any more detail behind his plans. A spokesman said he was not “abandoning” the high street and that creating housing closer to those shops in prime locations may actually boost business.
But Portas warned the new proposals could jeopardise the high street’s role as a “community place, a meeting place”. She said: “My concern is that the local councils will just go for the easy option of ‘let’s turn it back to housing’ and that mustn’t happen.”
British Retail Consortium director general Helen Dickinson said: “We need to see the detail of what is being proposed, but what I would be keen to make sure is that there is a joined up approach to this problem across every Government department, from the Treasury to the Department for Business and the Department for Communities and Local Government.”