UKHospitality has supported government proposals to reduce red tape around change of use planning appeals, saying it will "encourage dynamic use of the high street".
The government has proposed combining shops (A1), financial and professional services (A2), and restaurants and cafés (A3) under a new single planning class, meaning permission would not be needed for change of use between the three.
UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: "Hospitality businesses are integral to high streets and will have a significant role to play if they are to prosper. Flexibility is increasingly important for both businesses and customers looking to take advantage of multi-use spaces. More than ever, commercial space is being used fluidly and the planning system should be able to encourage dynamic use of the high street.
"Hospitality is at the centre of the high street and the consultation correctly acknowledges the important role it plays. Hospitality businesses are integral to communities around the country and the sector should be at the forefront when the government considers reform of planning regulation. Removing burdensome red tape and restrictions can help hospitality businesses make good use of their available space in an environment where costs are continually increasing.
"Merging of A1, A2 and A3 legislation into a single class would allow businesses to open quickly in empty units and enable them to effectively diversify to meet consumer demand. It benefits nobody if property is sat empty, so measures to encourage flexibility and ensure that space is put to good use is a positive step if the government is committed to supporting high streets."
The government is also considering allowing hot food takeaway restaurants (A5) to be converted to residential use without the need for planning permission in a bid to address the housing crisis.
Trevor Watson, executive director of Davis Coffer Lyons, has said described the proposal as "bizarre". He said, "Until such a policy is extended throughout all ‘A' retail planning classes, such a measure will have no impact either on the high street or the housing crisis. We need some vision and bravery to re-think what to do with obsolete retail units. Comprehensive conversion of obsolete shopping districts (many of which are pedestrianised) to new residential neighbourhoods is required. This kind of piecemeal policy will have zero impact and be of no benefit."