A UK franchise has made a plea to UK commercial landlords and planning departments to review and reform their planning policies to allow for a more diversified high street.
Mathnasium, a Maths tutoring franchise, claims its growth has been thwarted due to high street restrictions. Despite the demand from franchisees and students for Mathnasium centres across the country, the company has only secured eight high street locations due to delays with outdated planning permission and obstructive landlords.
With the latest reports painting a dismal view of the future of the UK high street, with 40,000 jobs this year alone affected by closures, Mathnasium is calling for change.
Local town planning departments up and down the country set their own planning policy, and Mathnasium argues many of which are archaic and out of touch with the needs of consumers. Many councils insist on a 95% retail business occupancy. This sometimes results in buildings lying empty for months on end whilst legitimate businesses like Mathnasium are refused change of use applications.
Steve Felmingham, UK director of operations at Mathnasium, comments: 'We know the Government is taking steps to address diversity on the high street with the update of its National Policy Planning Framework in July, but local authorities need to jump on this now. Unless action is taken, we are in danger of at best retaining a homogenous high street, or at worst no high street at all. By attracting a range of organisations, you encourage variety of services – this helps to drive interest, increase footfall and in turn secure further investment.
'Cambridge high street is one example of high street diversity, with its vibrancy reliant on a rich and varied mix of establishments in order to attract visitors. In a survey carried out by the Cambridge Independent, 54% of respondents said a range of shops determined where they shopped, which Cambridge offers.
'Despite the obvious appeal of high street diversity, planning restrictions are limiting the potential growth of non-retail businesses thanks to delays with outdated planning permission and obstructive landlords.'
Expert Peter Higginbottom, director at London based Planning Insight, Mathnasium’s planning partner, explains: 'It is becoming increasingly frustrating for clients trying to obtain high street premises. Many local planning authorities have very restrictive planning policies which seek to protect high streets but often do so through high thresholds for the retention of traditional retail uses.
'As such, many planning departments and landlords are refusing applications from other diverse businesses such as Mathnasium. This approach is often short sighted given that a number of retail units are empty for many months. Overly restrictive planning policies and a lack of flexibility by local authorities are only going to serve to drive the high street into greater decline. Those with flexible planning policies, will enable more diverse and successful high streets.'
At a time when the British high street faces its biggest threat of extinction, it’s vital for local planning departments to cease the opportunity to create diversity and harness the obvious appetite from many non-retail businesses to reinvigorate our towns and cities.