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More offices could become homes says BK's Paul Williams

wantspacegotspace.co.uk - More offices could become homes says BK's Paul WilliamsBristol could see a significant reduction in its office stock as landlords convert them to offices, following changes in planning rules, according to Paul Williams head of agency at Bruton Knowles Bristol office.

Permitted development rights introduced in May 2013 allow the change of use of buildings from offices to residential use, without the need for planning permission, but subject instead to a prior approval process by the Local Planning Authority.

The change was intended to generate activity in the development sector, and bring potentially obsolete office buildings back into use. Many landlords are now looking at the option for buildings they find hard to let.

Paul Williams says it is possible that even  office buildings in traditionally strong commercial areas around Temple Meads could be considered for conversion as demand for housing grows.
So far most of the buildings under consideration are located in the heart of the city centre, where substantial development took place in the 1960’s and 70’s, but where many buildings are nolonger fit for purpose as office space.

Said Paul Williams: “There is a huge demand for new homes to be created in the Bristol area. With fuel prices rising it must make sense to consider addressing at least part of that demand in the city centre where there is very little room to build new homes. Our research indicates that plans are currently being worked up for at least 600,000 sq ft of office space to be converted to residential use, but this could be just the tip of the iceberg.

“There have been some very successful conversions, especially in the student accommodation market, and it now seems likely that we will see more buildings being recycled to provide residential accommodation, potentially to provide key-worker accommodation or apartments for young professionals who would like to live in the city centre, but who may currently find themselves  priced out of the market.

“It is partly driven by changes in the demands of business. Developments in technology coupled with economic pressures and an increase in flexible working and desk sharing have meant that companies  are able to accommodate the same number of people in less floorspace than was previously the case, but to make this work successfully the office building must have the infrastructure to cope.

“ Where businesses do need a large office space their biggest requirements are that it is able to accommodate their IT needs and also create an attractive working environment which will help them to attract and retain key staff. Some of the older office stock around Bristol is simply not able to deliver these twin objectives.

“This means that they favour newer buildings, leaving some of the older buildings empty or half full and it is these that are likely to be considered for residential conversion. We have already seen many of Bristol’s Georgian and Victorian buildings converted to restaurants, bars and homes from offices as professional services, in particular, have moved out of the central area for more modern office accommodation around Victoria Street and Temple Quay.

“Now we are seeing offices that were fit for purpose in the 1970s and 1980s losing their appeal . Some of these could form part of the solution to the housing shortage. City centre living has great benefits in terms of access to public transport and services, and it is inherently more sustainable to re-use buildings where this is possible, rather than demolish them and redevelop.”

Mr Williams, who has been dealing with office accommodation in Bristol for the last 20 years, said the Government had recognised the issue and had relaxed planning regulations making it easier for offices to convert to residential. However, Bristol has a growing number of small and medium-sized businesses for whom the older-style buildings can provide a cost-effective solution and many were occupying part floors of offices in the city.

He said: “Smaller businesses, who can occupy one floor or part of a suite of offices can find the older style offices perfectly adequate, and able to provide highly cost effective accommodation. We need to identify the best buildings in Bristol for this use and move the smaller businesses in together to release offices more suitable for residential for that use.

“Office owners and small business owners should all be looking at their options at the moment in anticipation of the changes that are likely to happen.”

Posted by The Editor (wantspacegotspace) on 23rd September 2013

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