Is Office-To-Residential The Future Of Development?


As the British high street continues to reel from the effect of the lockdowns, it is probably still too early to gauge the full extent of the damage. Many household names that seemed unassailable a few years ago, such as Topshop and Debenhams, have vanished forever. Closed stores are remaining empty, or being used by fleeting pop-up businesses.

Even as people are beginning to return to offices and shops in the city centres this month, the pandemic is still far from over, and the winter position looks uncertain. All this means that property developers have been taking advantage of the relaxed Permitted Development Rights, which makes it easier to change the use of buildings.

Property Investor Today reports that retailers such as John Lewis have announced they are entering the Build-to-Rent market, to make use of land it no longer requires for retail operations. With so many prime brownfield sites now standing empty, using them to ease the UK’s chronic shortage of housing seems like a logical solution.

Andrew Ward, founder of Solomon New Homes, told the publication that property investment in ‘office-to-resi’ stock is set to rise. However, there are fears about the quality of housing that this will provide.

Ward commented: “Post-pandemic, there’s a good chance that we see more new residential properties come to the market that began life as a commercial building. But as we’re seeing in London currently, converting commercial buildings could be met with some resistance.

He added: “17 out of London’s 35 local planning authorities have either introduced or plan to introduce an Article 4 direction (A4D), giving councils the power to stop office-to-resi permitted development.”

The answer to the concerns of local councils is thoughtful planning, which provides homes that take into account the needs of the population, Ward explains. Whatever the outcome, it seems that new uses for former retail space on many brownfield sites must be found.

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