One of the most popular types of project we are working on with our property developers is the conversion of office space to residential. This type of conversion is often covered under a permitted development rights, PDR, change of use application, which has become very popular for a number of reasons.

The first is cost, building a new build block of flats is very expensive to construct and with these conversions you already have the shell of the building. It can be as simple as just fitting out the internals, a large percentage of these office blocks already have stairs accessing all floors and lifts which will add thousands to your build if you have to install these items. The cost of commercial property is generally cheaper than trying to buy a plot to build on or convert a residential dwelling into multiple properties.

Gaining local planning consent is also far easier, more and more councils are adopting the London Plan Space Standards which sets out the size units need to be. With these areas being quite generous it will result in you being able to get less units on a site if you have to apply under a full planning application. If you are converting an existing building you also do not have to worry about bulk, scale, and mass along with factors like light and outlook for occupants is not looked at as closely. Some local government have tightened the rules around these applications and are fighting against the loss of commercial space.

The other key factor driving this is availability, it is a tough market trying to find plots that are large enough to accommodate flats, or close to enough to a town centre to generate affordable housing that make the project viable. Businesses are moving out of high streets as the footfall has fallen with the increased popularity of online shopping coupled with increased rent from landlords.

Smaller businesses have opted for shared office spaces to help reduce over heads and benefit from small business relieve on business council rates. I can see the shared office spaces becoming even more popular when we all start returning to work. With the current climate and a huge percentage of the country working from home I expect to see pressure put on employers from their employees and the Government to encourage staff to work from home more regularly. This will mean that businesses will need less office space leaving large buildings to be split up into smaller units by the landlord or sold off to developers to convert the space into residential units.

It is not all doom and gloom for landlords, although I can see the need for large office buildings reducing. There is going to have to be a lot of change to how we work when we get back and more pressure will be put on employers to make their companies greener.

I also think it will be an opportunity for a lot of people to start their own business. I have been there in a comfortable job; I spent years working for and was too scared to take the leap and start my own business, with thoughts of can I do is and what if my salary is less for a while? Take it from me if those thoughts are there they will not go away.

I like to think that although this current crisis has kept us all locked up it has brought us closer together, it has made us think about what is important and what we really need. I can see people being more supportive of local businesses, shopping in independent high street shops rather than large chains.
If this is the case it will be a good opportunity for landlords of large office buildings. Lower floors could be converted to create small retail units while upper floors could be split up into small offices or open plan spaces that desks could be rented out from. A lot of these types of conversions will be covered under change of use applications which will make planning applications cheaper and quicker to gain consents.

We have helped a number of our clients over the past few years to gain planning consent for converting office buildings they have purchased into apartment schemes.
We have also been working on creating standard layouts for Studios, 1 and 2 bedroom apartments which reducing the time we spend on these projects and in turn reduced our cost for our clients, obviously a standard unit isn’t possible especially on conversion schemes as you have to work with the footprint that already exists but having designed thousands of flats over the past few years we can come up with solutions that will not only make the units easier to market.
We will design in a way that your build cost can be reduced and not have headaches on site trying to work out drainage runs and structural layouts.