Planning blocks change?

86 High Street as it was,formally Rye Shoes.

The pandemic has had a profound effect on all of our lives, and lockdown has given us time to re-evaluate – and some of our habits are changing, shopping being one of them. Home delivery and “click and collect” from our supermarkets and other providers may have been options we had not considered using until Covid-19 struck, and we had no choice but stay at home.

But now, these ‘new’ ways of shopping are commonplace and so too is shopping online. White van man is now everywhere, deliveries to our doors have made our lives so much easier, and – let’s be honest, receiving something as a delivery has an element of excitement, particularly if it’s not broken or it fits!

But the downside to all of this is the effect our new shopping habits have had and will have on our high streets. It’s been a very tough time for many shops and businesses and the knock-on effect is likely to take some time to shake down, before the new normal has bedded in.

Many shops have already closed their doors for good, national chains have been decimated, long established independent retail family businesses have disappeared from the high street, and in every city, town and village there are empty premises.

On a positive note

On a positive note, the availability of empty buildings is also attracting new businesses starting up, often able to take advantage of low rents, or rent free start up periods, where a landlord is keen to get a tenant who can at least pay the standing charges i.e. rates, services, insurance, and to have the shop occupied, even at a low rent, is better than having it empty.


Edinburgh Woollen Mill, any takers? 

Rye, despite its affluence, is not immune to the current climate and, if you look around the town, there are a number of empty shops and some of the businesses which have closed during the pandemic may not return for a variety of reasons – but well located, prominent shops are still very popular.

A willing and able tenant

Finding a tenant for the Edinburgh Woollen Mill shop (above) could take time, a large building with an old fashioned interior, but right next door, the former, now vacant, Rye Shoes shop has already attracted a willing and able proposed tenant whose interest sparked quite a lot of comments when featured recently in Rye News under the headline, “Cornish Pasties on their way”.

I spoke recently to the freeholder of the building who confirmed to me that the proposed tenant, The Cornish Bakery, was secured quickly and are keen to establish themselves in Rye as they have done locally in Hastings Old Town.

The Cornish Bakery in Hastings Old Town. But in Rye?

The two parties met, details were discussed and agreed in principle between them, subject to listed building and planning approval, and with terms agreed it should not be too long before a prominent, yet vacant, high street shop is once more trading, a new business in town attracting new customers to Rye.

But there could be months of delay

However, I am reliably informed that, after discussions with the planners at Rother District Council (RDC), the tenant’s application is likely to take up to seven to nine months to be determined and, even then, there is no guarantee that the decision reached will be an approval.

So what now? Will the tenants and landlords go the distance and take the risk? Can they  wait up to nine months for an answer, or will the tenants look and possibly find a shop elsewhere – only time will tell. In the meantime, as business rates are not payable on empty listed buildings which Rye Shoes (86 High Street) is, much needed income for RDC is being lost through non-payment of business rates and new jobs cannot be created if new businesses can’t open.

Recently, the government announced that some commercial buildings in our towns and cities could now be considered for change of use to residential properties as they are unlikely to be occupied as they are, but it begs the question, if our existing draconian planning system were overhauled and planning decisions were made more quickly, would new businesses be able to open sooner, would our high streets become vibrant again, and would we change our shopping habits once more, and buy locally instead of online?

Times they are a-changing but, as the saying goes, ‘time waits for no man’ and we can only support our local businesses if they are able to open.

Image Credits: Nick Forman , Trip advisor .


  1. Just when we need to get the economy going again and RDC show their talents for dragging heels. How on earth can anyone wait all that time to get a business up and running? This would be a great, and different, addition to the High Street. I can see no reason to delay planning approval.

  2. People need to be careful about wanting overhaul of “our existing draconian planning system” because that will lead to badly thought-through blots on the landscape and significant legacy issues (that end up creating inefficiencies in their own right).

    The problem here is that RDC’s planning team are under-resourced – they’re snowed under with work. Well resourced town planning is something any sensible person ought to aspire to – not ripping up the rule book. There are far more sensible ways to get things done.

  3. Online shopping is now part of our lives, and it’s not going to go away. And that’s no bad thing. But neither should it greatly affect Rye High Street. The important thing is to have a mix of individual shops that offer something interesting and tempting. People still love to browse and shop, and they love to buy the unexpected. We don’t need boring national chains that are seen everywhere all over the country. But we should embrace nice eateries and coffee/tea shops, art galleries and other creatives. That’s what attracts people, seeing new things. Rye High Street and the Quay are something to be proud of. Keep the retail spaces interesting and people will visit and spend. I am a big online shopper for items that I cannot get locally. But I’m just as keen to shop locally and find interesting things to buy. Rope Walk is another wasted opportunity that has become hugely unappealing. It could be a great indoor farmers market mixed with antique and bric-a-brac stalls, or for people who cannot afford a retail space, but need a small stand to sell handmade products such as you see in Covent Garden. All of this would lure locals and visitors. But for certain, Rother District Council needs to buck their ideas up. To take 7 to 9 months to make a decision on potential retailers trying to create a business in the area is utterly ridiculous. And it would be no surprise for those retailers to give-up and look elsewhere. This needs to be a time of encouragement, not feet-dragging. Let’s get the town flourishing.

    • Andrew, perhaps that’s your vision of how the Rope Walk Arcade should be? More bric a brac shops that have no interest to locals, a Covent Garden style market? We’re not in London and have enough shops selling old tat and chintzy stuff for tourists. The arcade provides starter shops for many businesses including dog grooming, a cafe, a DIY shop and other services plus a few bric a Brac shops.

  4. Not the best of Bakers & given the one in a town similar to Rye in Wiltshire lasted roughly a year not really a good idea.

  5. The Cornish Bakery is a chain of about 35 outlets – mainly in Cornwall and the Southwest but also as far north as Dumfries.
    There is a change of use required to convert retail space to a food outlet and there is a debate to be had as to how many food outlets there should be in Rye High Street. The Town Council will have considered this question before as it arose not long ago with the retail premises now occupied by “Ethel loves me” – a shop selling many locally made arts and crafts – a positive addition to the High Street.

    No Planning permission is required for change of use from Retail to Food outlet.
    Thanks to Julian Luckett from Rye Conservations Society for pointing putting me right.
    Here is a link to a useful guide on Planning Portal that explains how the legislation changed in September 2020 – effectively merging all the various uses into one new one – Use Class E.

    The planning delay is to consider a proposal to alter the shop front which you can see on put in Parish Rye and then look for 86 High Street.

  7. What really intrigues me is how these planners operate,when it comes to getting planning permission, one person gets knocked back, and the excuses are coming out of a narrow road onto the A259 was not acceptable, but lo and behold another applicant puts in for a restaurant and other buildings, and it gets passed,despite the same access and exit issues.The Mind Boggles.


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