Liberalise High Street planning, yes - but why not actually liberalise it?

A plan here to liberalise High Street planning:

The government is working on a shake-up of planning laws to help to revive struggling high streets.

James Brokenshire, the communities secretary, is working on draft legislation, seen by The Times, that will scrap the need for landlords and retailers to seek consent to change the use of empty or poorly performing shops, bank branches or estate agents to other services, such as cafés and hairdressers.

We don’t need as much retail space as we did, the internet is taking care of that. To the tune of near 20% of consumer spending, explaining why near 20% of retail space is empty. So, yes, good idea:

In town centres, planning rules mean that properties designated “A1” can be used for shops and retail outlets; “A2” properties are for financial and professional services, such as bank branches and estate agents; and “A3” properties can be used as restaurants and cafés.

Changing the use requires planning permission, which can take months, so Mr Brokenshire is planning to introduce a “high street use class” that would incorporate those under A1, A2 and the café element of A3, so that no planning permission would be needed for any changes.

OK. But we are reminded of what happened with the abortion law change. This isn’t a point about abortion, rather about how law changes. The time limit was 28 weeks, this was lowered to 24 weeks. A tightening of the abortion law? Not so fast - at the same time abortion for deformity was no longer limited by the 24 week restriction, nor even the old 28 week one. Is that a tightening of the law or a loosening?

Which brings us to this:

A list of “unacceptable” uses would be drawn up, including betting and pay-day loan shops, amusement arcades, shisha bars, tattoo parlours and casinos. Planning permission would still be needed to change use to and from restaurants, bars and hot food takeaways.

They’re not loosening the law, are they? They’re tightening it. Before, space could be filled by what gained an audience at the cost of some paperwork. Now space can only be filled by those approved of - with less paperwork.

At which point, why not actually loosen the planning laws which rule our High Streets? Simply state that if a business is legal in itself then it may operate out of any building? Yes, obviously, necessary to insist that a restaurant have taps and water supply, everyone has a fire exit and so on. But this insistence that the rulers know which sort of shop should go where is just the planning delusion. Of the same type even if at a lower level of idiocy as that which made the Soviet Union such a consumer paradise.

The people who know what sort of shop they want are consumers, they show this by their patronage. Those who chase that, the shop providers, the retailers. We’ve a method we can use to try and match that desire with supply, a sorting mechanism to search for the optimal solution - the market. Why not just get out of the way and allow the most efficient method yet devised, that market, to get on with it?