BOLD calls are being made for shops across Worcester to turn their upper floors into flats - in a radical attempt to solve the city's housing crisis.

A new campaign could change the face of Worcester's High Street and the rest of the city centre for a generation, with hundreds of retailers urged to open up their vacant space for apartments in a unique UK pilot.

Your Worcester News can reveal how the exciting initiative, called 'Living Over The Shop', aims to use the city as a launching pad to eventually transform town and city centres nationwide.

We can exclusively reveal how the campaign already has the backing of Worcester MP Robin Walker, who has already contacted the Government to see if any new shop flats could get a two-year 'amnesty' on council tax.

Fortis Living, which is the city's biggest social housing provider and the Mayor of Worcester Councillor Roger Knight are also supportive.

The idea has come from a former Worcester parliamentary candidate, Green Party chairman Louis Stephen, who says it would transform the city centre as a place for living, cut congestion and ease the acute pressure to build on brownfield and greenfield sites.

There is also a feeling it could create a whole new buzz in Worcester, changing the social nature of it as a place to not only shop but live.

It could also go a considerable way to reducing the city's under-pressure housing waiting list which today stands at 1,578 desperate people.

To make Worcester the UK pilot, it would almost certainly need the support of the city council and probably central Government.

Talks have already taken place with the Fortis Living, the Federation of Small Businesses, Mr Walker and shopping bosses about it.

We can reveal how at the moment not a single person lives above any of the High Street shops or The Shambles, while in nearby Reindeer Court there are three flats with residents on the electoral role.

Mr Stephen said: "Out-of-town new houses often require people to use their cars to access city centre amenities.

"Clearly, people living above city centre shops have far better access to shops, bars, restaurants and public transport hubs without needing a car."

He told your Worcester News how the city centre is "a desert" for housing and a new policy to make it more viable could have a dramatic impact.

"With all the housing shortages, the time has come to seriously look at this," he said.

Talks took place today with Worcester's Business Improvement District (BID), which represents city centre shops and businesses, over it.

Adrian Field, from Worcester BID, said: "It's great. There appears to be a lot of vacant space which with a bit of thought could be very viable.

"If there's redundant space which is perhaps not used for storage, why not - I know it can be difficult in terms of access, but we'd be happy to promote a survey with shops to ask them what they've got upstairs and how they use it."

Mr Walker said he's already contacted the Government to invite them to consider a two-year amnesty on council tax bills for newly-converted upper floors of shops, a move which would give any new policy serious clout.

"We want a busy, lively city centre and this is very much on my agenda," he said.

"If the city could pilot something I'd certainly encourage it."

The Mayor of Worcester, Councillor Knight said it was "sad and a shame" to see upper floors empty and supported any efforts to bring more into use.

“It’s not like there’s nothing going on around this, things are going on,” he said.

“But of course, it’s absolutely right that we should seek to make the most of any premises in the city centre, anything more we can do would be good.”


ALTHOUGH there are more than 700 retail units in Worcester city centre very few have flats above them, apart from a handful at the bottom of Broad Street by Massalla Lounge.

One of the major reasons for that is because traditionally, shops have not been dual-use, meaning many do not have separate access upstairs, leaving landlords face a hefty bill for creating a fire exit and stairs, as well as bin storage.

Instead city centre living, which has become more popular in recent years, has taken to mean new-build developments near shops, like Worcester's impressive apartment complex in Newport Street.

Another big barrier is that many shops do not own their freeholds - with many retail chains belonging to large city institutions that simply want a low risk, long term financial return.

Many are also managed from a head office with less local knowledge or interest in the need for new housing – and new build homes attract zero VAT while conversions do not, with the work needed to undertake that change levied at 20 per cent.

The city council does say it believes current planning policy aims to encourage shops to convert their upper floors.

A spokesman said: "We already have planning policies in place to encourage the use of upper floors in city centre shops for residential use.

"The emerging South Worcestershire Development Plan, which is expected to be adopted next year, includes policies which encourage making full use of vacant floor space above shops to provide accommodation."

The council also says anecdotally, it has seen a rise in planning applications for shop conversions, although the numbers are very small.

Mr Stephen has launched a website for his campaign and wants to register 'Living Over The Shop' as a registered charity if talks with the city council are successful.

* To see it visit or click HERE.