The death of the High Street has been trumpeted for decades.
As online sales soar, commentators are now predicting that almost half of the UK’s 220,000 stores will be permanently closed by 2030.
That is a shocking prediction, although the accuracy of these forecasts remains to be seen.
Regardless, property investors need to be alert. It’s worthwhile finding alternative uses for commercial units, whether they’re on the high street or out of town.
Nothing kills a retail hub faster than empty shop windows.
They drive down the value of other commercial properties in the same area, and shoppers don’t want to spend time in an area with boarded-up frontages.
Leasing to charity shops has long been the default option for keeping a property in use, the bills to a minimum, and a retail space alive.
The charity pays little or no rent, while the landlord avoids having to pay business rates on vacant premises.
However charity shops bring an area down, and most people associate charity shops with High Street decline.
Charity shops are a stopgap measure at best, and few investors delight at seeing their property failing to make money for them.
Gyms and leisure facilities
People still want to get fit and stay fit, even if Crossfit vanished into the murky mists of 2017.
Town centre gyms are ideal for people who want to work out on their lunch break or get fit while they do their shopping.
A gym can occupy almost any space which has room for a rack of weights, treadmills, and a shower room.
Larger premises can offer a full range of fitness equipment.
It might even be possible to set up a cafe on-site to offer clients much needed refreshment after a gruelling workout.
Flats and houses
There’s a housing crisis in Britain, with too many people and not enough residential properties in which to house them.
Despite government plans to build 250,000 new homes by 2022, it is unlikely to be enough, as three million more are needed over the next two decades.
Commercial premises can be converted to dwellings fairly easily.
Most already have a heating system, and plumbing, and many shops were originally built as houses – or at least along a similar design.
More modern city centre shopping centres can be converted into desirable flats, with the added bonus of excellent transport links, right in the heart of town.
Decluttering seems to be Britain’s new national obsession.
That there are now even television shows dedicated to the art of clearing out your house, and celebrities whose claim to fame is that they are experts in throwing stuff out.
A lot of clutter may make its way to the recycling centre or the nearest charity shop.
But some people prefer to keep items on hand against the eventual and inevitable time they will be needed again.
Storage units are the answer.
Customers can rent a safe space where their cherished, but unwelcome, goods can sit safely indefinitely.
Well-secured shop units provide a convenient location where people can easily pop in to retrieve or store their excess possessions.
Software and technology companies are starting up faster than ever.
All they need to function is a convenient space, fast internet access, and somewhere to plug in the computers.
Physical goods aren’t the only things that can be sold from a converted shop unit.
Retail space converted to moderately priced offices can be a godsend to small online business and professionals such as web developers, programmers, and writers.
Offices can be open plan or compartmentalised, with short leases providing an incentive for new businesses with limited capital, or experimental ventures.
As with charity shops, letting to community organisations does not bring in a lot of money for the owner of a unit.
But it does guarantee that the building will be kept in good repair.
Even more importantly, it will allow potential tenants to see the unit in operation, and to see its possibilities.
Otherwise, they’d be faced with closed doors and shuttered windows and would have to imagine how it looks.
Your retail unit can play host to social enterprises, local art displays, play schemes and adult learning centres.
Helping the community and improving the local area until a tenant can be found is socially conscious, too.
If you’re not convinced that the High Street is dead forever, this might be the way to go.
Converting retail space to a different use often requires planning permission.
And while changing a shop to residential use is allowed under Class G and Class M of general permitted development, other restrictions may apply on a local level.
As always, you should consult with a planning expert, and notify your local authority before making any changes.
At the very least, a Notification for Prior Approval is required.