How commercial conversions are changing our local landscapes
New time buyers are facing an unprecedented challenge as the cost of housing (specifically in London) reaches an all-time high. According to one article form the Telegraph, by 2025 London could well be a city of renters, with 40% unable to purchase their own house. The recently coined phrase "generation rent" carries with it extremely concerning connotations.
Even in 2016, the average age for unassisted first time buyers is the worryingly high 33 and there is a pressure on parents to delay their retirements as they continue to support their children. To help combat this alarming trend the government introduced a rather controversial measure in 2012. With the hope of reducing the pressure on the housing market they lessened the restrictions on converting commercial buildings into residential properties. This somewhat drastic measure was aimed to revitalise buildings abandoned during the recession and turn them into much needed accommodation.
This week we spoke with Matt Ward, an up and coming London based builder who had some rich insights into the challenges behind property development of this kind. He also spoke to us about its impact upon the local landscape and housing market.
Undoubtedly, there are advantages to commercial conversions. Many of these buildings had been vacant for a number of years and redeveloping them created badly needed homes for the local community as well as reinvigorating the construction industry. Some also suggest that a larger resident population should see local shops benefit, as well as creating far safer areas at night.
However, the argument that more residents will enrich the local community does not hold sway with every demographic. Jason Kitcat, a member of the Green Party and leader of the Brighton and Hove council claims that office workers provide a significant boost to a local economy. With many residents travelling for work, Kitcat suggests that areas will only see significant foot traffic on the weekend, leaving shops desolate during the week.
Critics also argue that the policy has resulted in businesses being forced to leave office space, as resident rent offered a better return. Not only that, but these sorts of offices could provide the perfect environment for Start-ups and more diverse economies. Artists and other independents should thrive in cosmopolitan London, not be forced out by high rents. This can be seen in Westminster which has lost 5% of its office space since the policy came into effect; enough space for 78,000 workers.
Added to these concerns is the simple fact, argued by many, that these houses are substandard. Converted in city centres, in short time frames with little room for expansion they come with a myriad of problems. Often causing tension with shops (often located downstairs or nearby), they also present a plumbing problem as one office requires far fewer toilets than residences. They also present very real logistical issues as transporting the right building equipment into the city centre is extremely difficult. As Nick Gavron, the Labour London Assembly planning spokesperson commented the policy, "results in the wrong types of homes in the wrong locations converted housing does not have to meet affordability, environmental or disability standards set by local authorities."
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