Here’s the theory. If we could convert some of the commercial properties in our towns into residential, we would increase the number of people living there. With new inhabitants in towns comes the need for more amenities. These new homeowners would not be able to survive on cappuccinos, vaping products, and second-hand trousers alone. They will need shops. They will need bars and cafes, and restaurants. They will need entertainment and recreational venues and outdoor amenities. And these things will all automatically materialise because the demand is there from the new homeowners.
But it doesn’t stop there. Suddenly those people in the outer suburbs with their recent cardboard recycling issues have a new reason to come into town. They could pop into one of those new restaurants after visiting the new cinema and then catch last orders in one of the swanky new bars. And swing by the recycling centre on the way home to ditch their cardboard. Now we have residents from out of town coming in for leisure, which again creates demand. What about those old redundant department stores in the high street? They could become co-retail spaces, where small independent retailers could rent space to sell their wares. We could actually go shopping again on the high street, but this time for the more exciting stuff you can’t get in Tesco or Amazon. Believe it or not, we could even start to see tourism.
So, while this is all easier said than done, it’s still fair to say that Brownfield redevelopment has a lot going for it. First and foremost, it means we’re not concreting over the green belt. It’s a vote-winner, too, since fewer voters would object to empty buildings being recycled into homes, or to our town centres being given new leases of life. These buildings are surrounded by infrastructure, so there’s no need to undertake massive civil engineering projects to make them accessible. And they’re also in the middle of communities where people want to live – there would be no need for everyone to up sticks and relocate to the Western Isles or Mid-Glamorgan. North Cornwall could also breathe a sigh of relief.
Much of this brownfield land is in towns, where the retail revolution has had an interesting impact on our shops. Back in the day, the upper floors of shops would store stock. But with today’s just-in-time inventory systems, retailers no longer need the same level of storage space, and the ‘uppers’ of many shops are often unused. This makes it possible to convert these upper floors into residential use without making the store underneath unviable.