Historic Little Germany is set to be the first place in the UK to benefit from a new regeneration-boosting law.

English Heritage has selected Bradford’s famous merchants’ quarter to pilot new planning rules designed to speed up development by cutting red tape.

It’s hoped the move will bring a new lease of life to the historic textile warehouses, many of which are standing empty, by allowing them to be more easily turned into flats or offices.

The new Local Listed Building Consent orders, which were introduced on April 6, make it simpler for developers to work on listed buildings in a given area, while ensuring their historic features are fully protected.

Now English Heritage is teaming up with Bradford Council to draw up the UK’s first order, which would cover 47 listed buildings across Little Germany and the Cathedral Quarter.

English Heritage’s historic places principal for Yorkshire, Deborah Wall, said: “We looked at Little Germany because it is right beside where Westfield is about to spring up. Of all the areas, Little Germany has such amazing historical qualities.

“People outside of Bradford have heard of Little Germany, it’s a little brand in itself, but the vacancy rates have been increasing and it’s not doing too well at the moment.”

Trevor Mitchell, English Heritage’s Yorkshire planning and conservation director, added: “These constructive changes to the listed building consent system will simplify life for developers while still protecting what is special about buildings in Little Germany.

“It’s a signal to developers that English Heritage and Bradford Council are encouraging proposals for the buildings that will make the area more vibrant and secure the future of these excellent buildings.”

The move was warmly welcomed by Little Germany Action Ltd, a not-for-profit organisation championing the regeneration of the area. It has been helping English Heritage with the plan.

Director Dave West said about a third of Little Germany’s buildings were unoccupied – around 500,000 square feet of vacant space. But he said now everything was falling into place for the area’s regeneration.

He said: “I just think it’s the time for Little Germany to prosper and move forward. The economic climate has improved, Westfield is coming out of the ground, interest in the area has increased.

“We now have English Heritage and the Council working positively together to make life easier for developers.

“We were so chuffed that English Heritage approached us to help them with this. It’s just a great example of partnership working.”

Owners of listed buildings have to apply for listed building consent, as well as planning permission, to make any changes.

But the new orders, part of the Government’s red-tape-cutting Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act, allow planners and developers to agree in advance on approved works, which cannot include demolition.

This would mean developers could make alterations, such as moving internal walls or adding floors, without having to apply for listed building consent for each change – reducing bureaucracy and cutting developers’ costs.

The order, once drawn up, would have to go to a public consultation before being put in place.

It would not apply to Bradford Cathedral or other unusual listed buildings in the area, only the textile warehouses that give Little Germany its unique character.

Councillor Val Slater, Bradford Council’s executive member for planning, said: “We are working hard to stimulate the city centre economy and use our fabulous built heritage to the city’s advantage without devaluing its unique characteristics, which is why we are keen to participate in this pilot where new measures available to us through the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 can act as catalysts for investment.”

Last month the Council also approved a separate plan to relax planning rules on the other side of the Westfield site, meaning businesses will not have to apply for change of use to open shops, restaurants, bars or offices.