While it has been a week of big property news in Oxfordshire, a seemingly low key story in Amersham is potentially significant to all areas of the country.

Buckinghamshire Council is protesting that Government plans to allow retail units to be converted to residential without planning permission, could make it impossible for councils to protect town centres.

And their fears seem justified. The move could cause an unwelcome cultural shift.

While the new planning Class E, offering flexibility for retail units and effectively widening the net for towns of all sizes to attract more diverse occupiers, seems a step forward, allowing those same units to disappear from the retail landscape, seems a step back.

And it wouldn’t seem unreasonable to imagine a domino effect, where small towns become less attractive as the trend of shops converting to residential begins to snowball. Why go into a town centre when it is losing its vibrancy?

If you walk around almost any densely populated areas of terraced houses in the UK, you will see former corner shops, which have been incongruously converted to residential.

Pubs and shops, located right in among their communities, have been disappearing for years and this move, which offers few obvious benefits, can only serve to speed up the rate of those losses.

The prospect that this could now happen in town centres, where we’ve been seeing numbers of independent operators increase in recent years, due to reducing rents, suggests this latest move is somewhat ill-considered.

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