January 22, 2013
After years in which we have gradually seen technology and flexible working practices transform our homes into offices, the UK Government has reversed this apparently natural order of things by introducing legislative changes to the planning system that will allow developers to convert office buildings into blocks of flats without asking councils for planning permission. The intention is to address the UK’s housing shortage and stimulate the economy. It’s also a sign that many offices are empty as both a consequence of the downturn and changes in the way they are designed and used. The move is part of a general liberalisation of planning rules which will loosen the ‘change of use’ rules that govern whether buildings have to be industrial, residential, retail or offices. According to the Financial Times, planning minister Nick Boles is set to announce a new “permitted development right”, whereby many offices can be turned into residential properties without any permission. The changes will not, however, apply to shops or warehouses nor to buildings in the City of London which has successfully argued for an exemption. The move is also a sign of the high vacancy rates in the commercial property sector which are as high as 20 per cent in some UK regions.