Struggling retailers could be converted into residential hubs according to UK think tank Social Market Foundation.
In a report that seeks to review planning laws, the move could create at least 800,000 new homes, the Social Market Foundation (SMF) suggested.
The SMF also said that there has been a surge in online sales and the decline of traditional high street shopping is “inevitable”.
SMF research director, Scott Corfe said: “Politicians pledging to save the high street are promising voters the impossible. Instead of claiming they can turn back the clock, leaders should aim to make inevitable change work better for urban centres and populations.”
“Trying to prop up high street retailers facing long-term decline is not an act of kindness to workers or towns. It just postpones the inevitable and wastes opportunities to develop new policies to help workers and towns embrace the future.”
The report suggests that lockdown has amplified trends that were already taking lead, as well as a shift away from in-store shopping the increase in remote working has decreased footfall in town and city centres since lockdown measures were eased.
SMF continued to argue that as opposed to focusing on “saving the high street”, ministers should be working on “saving urban centres”.
The proposal includes introducing a nationwide programme of repurposing city and town centres into residential property, funded by local councils.
In support of the proposal, central government could write off tens of billions of pounds of local councils’ debt and Economic Growth Areas could be assigned, with tax incentives offered to businesses searching to move to the zones and generate employment.