News that Tesco is likely to convert retail sites to housing have been announced.
First, it shows that building houses is more profitable than building shops – at least in some parts of the UK.
And second, that controversial supermarket “land banking” (buying up swathes of land for potential retail development) has largely run its course. It is likely that other supermarkets will follow suit, releasing land for housing and smaller retail developments.
Which could be good news for a government keen to see lots more houses built.
I asked Alan Stewart, Tesco’s chief financial officer, how many houses could be built.
“It certainly will be thousands, I think it will depend on council by council, site by site exactly what the development turns out to be,” he said.
Sources close to the business tell me that as many as 10,000 homes could be built on the sites Tesco has just sold, from Bath to London and the south-east of England. “These sites were all bought because we intended to put a store [in] and then develop residential around them,” Mr Stewart told the BBC. “We wanted to ensure that we would work with the communities and the council in order to develop and build housing and the other projects as quickly as possible and in a way that is sympathetic to the community.”
Comment So there we have it, retails get permission for retail and then decide to convert it to housing! So an area could have allocations for 2,000 houses and suddenly another 500 appear – so much for good planning.
There should not be a presumption that if land allocated for retail is not used for retail then it should be used for housing. And once again we have the situation where retailers play a significant role in creating development pressures. Retailers are acting as developers rather than simply retailers which distorts the planning system.