Architects could benefit from a ‘multi-million pound surge’ in new projects following the government’s decision to scrap planning requirements for office-to-housing conversions
Set to be unveiled in chancellor George Osborne’s budget today, the reform could create up to 250,000 new homes in empty offices and save £140 million in planning costs.
Richard Tice, chief executive of developer CLS Holdings, predicted a ‘surge in architectural activity’ could follow the reform. He added: ‘There are substantial fees [up for grabs] and [architects] will be able to unlock lots of opportunities because they know the buildings and the locations.’
Matt Hale, associate at Buckley Gray Yeoman, added that it could be good news for the architecture profession, and said: ‘We have done a number of commercial-to-residential conversions and the planning issue is always a stumbling block.
‘However, we have concerns over whether it may give developers a further reason for not requiring an architect’s services.’
Under the plans, B1 to C3 change of uses will become a ‘permitted development’ but, at the time of going to press, the Department for Communities and Local Government was unable to confirm any further details.
Crispin Kelly of developer Baylight speculated there could be a 5,000m² limit for the size of developments and that proof would be needed that the building had been marketed for several years. ‘I would be very surprised if huge buildings are allowed,’ he said.
Derek Davis, director at John Robertson Architects, said developers would concentrate on ‘exclusive’ residential schemes in prime city-centre locations and warned that affordable housing obligations could be overlooked.
A further concern, according to one source close to the government, is a shortage of inexpensive ‘entry-level’ office space.
In central London, the borough of Westminster has already witnessed a shift in uses from offices to homes. According to an H2SO report, between 2001 and 2009 almost 280,000m² of commercial space was converted into housing.
Richard Kauntze, British Council for Offices chief executive, said the new policy would ‘boost the sustainability of commercial property and extend lifecycles’.
He added: ‘The BCO Guide to Fit-Out, which will be discussed in further detail at a dedicated session at our Annual Conference in May, has been completely revised to take into account new ways of working and can help advise occupiers on how to use space most efficiently so that it can be meet a variety of needs and purposes.’