Calls for action to turn empty commercial buildings into affordable homes

The All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) for Ending Homelessness and Housing Market and Housing Delivery has produced a report on Rethinking Commercial to Residential Conversions following an inquiry to explore the potential challenges during planning to occupation.

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Propertymark responded to the consultation warning several obstacles to a wide-scale programme of conversions need to be adhered to. It is pleasing to see the report offers additional details about how such conversions should be delivered.

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15 Mar 2023
Caution issued on converting commercial properties for residential use

Conversions could increase the housing supply

Members of the APPGs, including MPs Bob Blackman, Florence Eshalomi and Ben Everitt, are keen to act on this as changes in the way we work have, at least temporarily, reduced demand for office space while demand for new homes remains incredibly high.

It is believed that converting empty local authority buildings alone can create 20,000 more homes in England. However, given the scale of demand, converting empty properties can only be one of several methods to increase housing supply.

Additionally, members from London were quick to point out that lower demand for office or other professional space is not consistent across the UK. Many London offices after the pandemic are being put back into use with demand reflecting pre-pandemic levels in some areas.

Conversions must be suitable for domestic use

Propertymark maintains the view that property that is designed and built for commercial use is not always suitable for conversion to residential. Furthermore, if conversions are to take place, they will require significant investment to ensure that the building’s energy infrastructure and facilities meet the needs of domestic and residential use.

Furthermore, feedback from Propertymark members tells us that commercial properties are not always located in areas that are ideal for residents, such as being away from other housing areas and local amenities. However, if these hurdles are overcome, there is the potential for some shortfalls in the supply of housing to be met.

Given the demand for property to rent and slow build out rates for new homes, , it is  important that a range of measures be explored in order to increase housing options for people across the country. However, any conversions of commercial buildings to residential use must maintain high building standards and meet local housing and community needs.

It is therefore reassuring that the joint-APPG report has taken up many of the recommendations Propertymark presented in our submission. Minimum standards, funding for community-led development and guidance for local authorities have all been included in the final report which we believe will lead to more sustainable and higher quality conversions.

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Timothy Douglas Head of Policy and Campaigns | Propertymark