Covid-19 has transformed the way we work, and this is likely to have a long-term impact even once the pandemic is over. As a result, we can expect to see a resurgence in converting office units into residential spaces, writes Alex Hurn, director of Sillence Hurn Building Consultancy.
The Coronavirus pandemic has had an overwhelming impact on the way that many of us live and work. Many businesses have had to implement a work-at-home approach, often for the first time. And in many cases, it’s worked. Employee satisfaction, work/life balance, and even productivity have, for many businesses, actually increased.
As a result, businesses are increasingly starting to consider this as a permanent or at least semi-permanent solution, meaning after the Covid-19 pandemic, it is likely that the traditional office set-up will change with occupiers requiring workspaces which are more innovative, creative and health and wellbeing focused. This will still encourage employees either on a full or part-time basis to continue work from an office location.
The good news is this disruption will present a host of development opportunities in the form of office to residential conversions. In fact, we are already seeing a resurgence emerging in the market for office-to-residential conversions, providing developers with project management and developer services and providing lenders with project monitoring services on schemes of this nature.
Increasing demand for housing
Many office buildings are within, or offer easy access to, cities where housing is in high demand with limited supply. Converting office space into residential property is an effective way to repurpose a disused property while capitalising on the growing demand for housing.
Commercial buildings are well-built, with large floorplates, open plan layouts, which can easily be converted into smaller, residential spaces. Office buildings are often constructed with high floor to ceiling heights which allows for building services to be run within voids without compromising on space. The conversion process provides a cost-effective and reduced-risk construction allowing for the creation of high-spec homes.
A further draw of office residential conversions is that planning permission isn’t required when converting an office for residential use (changing its use from B1 to C3), making the planning process more straight-forward. This is because the conversion is covered by Permitted Development Rights (PDR), a Government scheme that allows certain types of changes of use to be undertaken without the need for planning permission.
You will, however, need to make an application for a Class O prior approval, which allows for an office to change use to residential providing it was used as an office on or before March 2013. Naturally, limitations apply to listed office buildings and those within safety hazard zones.
Under PDR, there are a number of considerations that must be taken into account, and regulations have been put in place to ensure that these converted spaces are suitable for habitation. For example, in July 2020, it was ruled that natural light must be provided in all habitable rooms in any housing that is built or converted under the permitted development scheme. Then, in September 2020, it was announced that the Nationally Described Space Standard would cover all new homes, including those created under permitted development.
Sillence Hurn office to residential conversions
At Sillence Hurn, we are currently project managing the conversion of a mixed-use building into six residential dwellings for a private developer, involving forming new party walls and window openings, external works, and internal fit-out works.