A West Midlands council predicts its plan to regenerate the town centre by converting empty shops into homes could serve as a blueprint to address the UK’s wider housing issues.

Councillors in Dudley say the town’s traditional retail areas have been badly hit by changing shopping habits during the coronavirus pandemic and they are now looking at alternatives to regenerate a number of localities.

Speaking to the Express and Star newspaper, councillor Anne Millward said: “I think we have a God-given opportunity to revitalise our high street with the conversion of shops into residential properties which will also relieve the growing pressure on our green belt.”

She added Dudley could learn from the experience of cities such as Stavanger in Norway, where more people are living in central districts. “This means businesses are regenerating because people need the shops and they need the nightlife economy. There is such a lot that can be done and I believe that Dudley could lead the way with this nationally.”

A recent council report suggests the borough will lose £3.8 million in business rates this year because of vacant shops.

Worldwide, the coronavirus pandemic has increased pressure on governments to tackle housing shortages and allow local authorities more freedom to convert empty offices and shops.

Last month, for example, the South Korean government said it would build 114,000 homes for public housing within the next two years by buying up empty hotels and offices and repurposing them.

Singapore meanwhile is looking at plans to redevelop old offices in its central business district (CBD) by converting excess car parking spaces into homes, shops, restaurants and indoor farms.

Speaking to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Justin Eng, an associate director of research at real estate consultancy Knight Frank Asia-Pacific, said: “Governments and developers across the region are looking at converting commercial space into housing. These trends had been in motion prior to COVID-19, but have now been accelerated.”

Eng added that he felt Singapore’s scheme to encourage the conversion of offices would be more workable for turning hotels and serviced apartments into homes.

“Changing an office to residential would take longer and cost more. The added costs might not make the change of use financially feasible.”

Fraser and Fraser remains fully operational and is here to deal with any queries that local authority empty homes officers may have during this exceptional time. Please do not hesitate to get in touch with business development manager Nick Beetham. We are able to offer all our services remotely and we have secure video conferencing facilities.