Caution issued on converting commercial properties for residential use

Responding to an All-Party Parliamentary Group inquiry about understanding the feasibility of converting empty commercial property into affordable housing, Propertymark believes there is potential, however, warns of several obstacles to a wide-scale programme of conversions.

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The APPG for Ending Homelessness and the APPG on Housing Market and Housing Delivery inquiry sought views on the barriers and potential of utilising the growing number of empty commercial buildings following the pandemic, due to the shift away from office-based working, as a solution to the growing housing shortage.

Not all commercial properties are viable

Upon consultation with Propertymark members from our commercial division, they stated primarily, many conversions would not be financially viable or suitable for residential use even if a conversion was made.

To promote conversions, developments would need to be financially attractive or else developers and building owners would simply not consider converting the property. Additionally, many commercial properties are located away from many of the facilities that communities need, which would lead to residents being isolated.

Establish high standards

In order to ensure developments lead to quality homes being built, Propertymark calls for the establishment of a set of clear achievable but high standards that converted properties would have to meet. This will prevent poor conversions that do not provide an adequate standard of living.

Need for consistent planning system decisions

Propertymark members were also keen to point out issues with the planning system, citing instances when planning approval is granted inconsistently. If conversions were to be feasible on a national scale, we would like to see clear guidance provided to local authorities so they can approve conversions more consistently.

Propertymark has long advocated for a range of measures to improve the housing supply crisis and very much welcomes this joint inquiry to explore converting commercial property as a potential solution. There are certainly instances when conversions can be suitable, however, we have made it clear in our response that the suitability of the property for conversion must be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Commercial properties are incredibly varied and often require substantial work in order to be suitable for residential housing. Conversions must be made with the proper regard for the quality of living and suitability of the conversion, or we would risk the creation of low-standard housing and isolated communities when there are alternative measures to increase housing supply.

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Henry Griffith Policy and Campaigns Officer | Propertymark
Download the full consultation response