Applications to convert retail space into homes have risen in the past year, data from commercial law firm EMW has shown.

It comes as physical retail has declined in recent years, with shoppers moving online amid the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result of lower footfall, 14% of retail units on the high streets are currently vacant.

The number of applications to turn shops into homes rose by 37% this year to 677, up from 494 in 2019/20 amid the continued struggle of bricks-and-mortar retail. However, EMW’s research showed that out of the 677 applications in 2020/21, 45% were refused by local authorities.

Marco Mauro, principal at EMW, said: “Some local authorities are hesitant about losing too much commercial space. If too many shops are lost, the value of a high street as a destination is eroded, often permanently. That makes it harder for remaining shops to flourish and can, in some cases, lead to a town centre virtually disappearing.

“Developers looking to convert retail units to residential need to consider this as part of their planning applications – a mixed-use development rather than pure housing can stand a better chance of being accepted by a local planning authority.