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Empty shops 'should be new homes'

Derelict shops and empty business premises should be turned into new homes to boost the economy and solve Britain's housing shortage, a think-tank has claimed.

Changing planning rules to make it easier for developers to convert commercial units to housing would help thousands of people get on the property ladder, said the Policy Exchange.

Its report, called More Homes: Fewer Empty Buildings, calls for allowing vacant or under-used retail, industrial and office space to be converted into housing, without having to obtain planning permission for change of use.

Co-author Alex Morton said: "Councils are holding back the conversion of vacant and under-used urban space into housing.

"Relaxing the planning rules to make it easier to convert commercial property would encourage investment, increase regeneration and create large numbers of jobs.

"We have rates of vacancy among commercial buildings nearly six times that of empty housing. That is a major indictment of our current system.

"Just because a building has always been a shop or offices shouldn't have to mean it stays that way forever."

In 2008, the research found, some 16,000 homes were converted from redundant commercial premises.

Thousands more business premises have become vacant and come on the market since the recession.

The Policy Exchange said that while around 3% of houses are empty nationwide, even in the economically-vibrant south east England, office vacancies are running at 17%.

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