‘Kick-start for developments’ after planning reform

Andrew Rowson

Andrew Rowson

A new Government policy allowing the conversion of offices to residential without planning permission could kick-start hundreds of developments as investors are attracted by a dramatic reduction in red tape, it was claimed today.

Andrew Rowson, partner at Birmingham-based chartered surveyors Johnson Fellows, believes the new development rights announced recently could be the green light many developers and investors have been waiting for.

The Government’s planning reform – aimed at speeding up the conversion of empty commercial property space into much-needed housing – was welcomed by Mr Rowson, who leads the building consultancy division at Johnson Fellows.

He said: “The building consultancy department at Johnson Fellows regularly acts for developers and investors in converting vacant upper floors above retail units into residential use. Indeed, this is the angle the developers and investors see when purchasing properties.

“ We generally carry out the design, obtain statutory approvals, prepare specifications, obtain competitive tenders and supervise the works. In the past, this could sometimes be a slow and difficult process where the planning officers still interpret planning guidance very differently from one local authority to another. This can be further complicated on buildings that are listed or within conservation areas.”

He added: “This is not only a steady work stream for us but personally I am very keen to see vacant space rejuvenated and put back into use so I am delighted to hear that the Government is introducing steps to make planning permission easier with some permitted development rights which allows conversion without having to apply for planning permission.

“Developers and investors will see this as a way of cutting bureaucracy and red tape and, hopefully, will help to get a lot of schemes off the ground.”

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) Secretary of State Eric Pickles said the new measures formed part of the drive to encourage a swift and responsive planning system. Lasting for three years, the fresh permitted development right will allow conversions from class B1(a) offices to C3 residential to proceed without the cost and delay of a planning application.

Mr Rowson added: “Forward-thinking investors and landlords eager to maximise income generated by properties have always been attracted to the option of converting empty space, such as offices, above retail units into homes. Now, the easing of planning regulations has made this option even more appealing for many who are exploring ways of turning offices and storage into apartments, bringing life back to unloved and under utilised properties.

“In the current economic climate, the Government is on a mission to rejuvenate the high street and increase the numbers of residential properties. Meanwhile, business owners, investors and landlords are looking for new income streams.

The good news is that there is now help at hand in the form of the Government proposals which will make it easier to convert commercial premises into residential apartments without express planning consent. Some landlords and investors have already started to unlock the potential of vacant space above shops with the help of chartered surveyors and buildings consultants such as ourselves.

“We have had more enquiries in recent months from investors who want to take advantage of the opportunity to make good profits from suitable commercial premises and businesses that want to manage their assets in a better way which, in turn, can provide an alternative income stream.

“The majority of retail premises only utilise the ground floor for trade and the floors above are often only used for staff facilities and storage. This means that there are often a number of extra floors that are vacant and can often be left to fall into disrepair. By converting those unused spaces into residential dwellings, building owners or landlords with long term leases can expect a great return on investment.”

Johnson Fellows has already worked with a number of retail landlords and investors across the UK – from Manchester to London – to convert the upper floors of high street premises. To support these projects, the team at Johnson Fellows has carried out full-measured surveys and feasibility studies, drawn up fit-out plans and specifications, and completed planning and building regulations applications.

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