Tight regulations for the change of use from commercial to residential properties could be loosening as the UK government is planning for growth. Whilst the UK population grows, with the Eastern Region forecast to do so most rapidly, house building is still dogged by a slow planning system and tight lending by the banks, the Government believes that a more responsive approach to planning legislation is necessary and one that meets its sustainability objectives. The idea, currently out for consultation, is that planning permission rights (under permitted development), currently enjoyed with certain development applications, could be extended to allow a relaxation of the change of use from commercial to residential.
This will in effect bring empty office buildings back in to habitable use thus regenerating areas, particularly in the centre of cities where there are good public transport provisions and amenities such as food outlets, coffee shops, leisure facilities which are all conducive with residential use.
The upgrading of buildings and accommodation will have a positive impact for the area where vibrant communities can emerge in replacement of unsightly boarded up office blocks. This of course in turn will create jobs in the construction and service industries and bring about more footfall to areas likely to benefit from increased retail trade.
This new initiative will help with the national housing shortage and promote the refurbishment of underused or empty buildings which have long been seen by the populous as a wasted opportunity and something that does not sit well with the national conscience.
How this has an effect on demand and pricing will depend on the location. The more affluent towns, such as Cambridge – an area where I am particularly active, have a lower vacancy rate and therefore opportunities may be more limited although confidence will be high to speculate, whilst the more industrial cities and urban areas will provide a much wider scope and this as a consequence really does have a greater impact in transforming and regenerating areas. This policy relaxation could bring about a greater supply in central locations, particularly for smaller units more easily converted from larger multi storey buildings.
The Government is also looking to allow agricultural buildings to be converted to a number of other uses and for new and start-up businesses to occupy shops, restaurants and cafes for a 2 year period to help promote regeneration. By allowing landlords and owners this flexibility, perhaps from redundant non-income producing assets we may see this reflected in the level of rents and overall costs for start-up businesses helping the initial trading performance.
However it is the change of use from commercial to residential which in my view will have the biggest impact and may well change the towns and cities landscapes from one of neglect and under investment to offering some new exciting opportunities.