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27 October 2015

New lease of life for commercial properties

Geoff Collins, director for the Chilterns group of offices at The Frost Partnership, explores development rights.

New measures announced on 13 October 2015 by Housing and Planning Minister, Brandon Lewis, aim to make it easier to turn underused office buildings into new homes. It is hoped that these “measures will mean we can tap into the potential of underused buildings to offer new homes for first-time buyers and families long into the future, breathing new life into neighbourhoods and at the same time protecting our precious green belt”, comments Lewis.

The process is already well underway. First introduced in 2013, temporary permitted development rights enabled offices to be converted to new homes without the need for planning permission, and between April 2014 and June 2015 almost 4,000 conversions were given the green light.

These rights were set to expire in 2016 but will now be ongoing, ending uncertainty for developers and facilitating the development of thousands of much needed homes. The rights will also allow for demolition of office buildings and new building for residential use as well as the change of use of light industrial buildings and launderettes to new homes (subject to limitations and prior approval by the local planning authority).

Conversion of vacant commercial properties into residential units could be a partial solution to the current housing shortfall in the UK. Certainly The National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA) welcomes the policy; in the past planning regulations have made the purchase of commercial properties for conversion too risky for developers.

Peter Bolton King, Chief Executive of the NAEA says, "Theoretically, the Government's decision to bring in this crucial change to planning regulation will provide a much cheaper alternative to new build properties.”

The NAEA does however recommend careful consideration of location and amenities including access and parking. Existing building covenants, the cost of conversion versus new build and additional building requirements relating to conservation of fuel and power need to be factored in to feasibility assessment.

The Frost Partnership often works hand in hand with developers providing expert advice on the potential for (and possible problems with) change of use. Years of experience have earned Frosts a reputation for expertise in avoiding or solving complex planning issues. Often the company has a direct involvement from the initial assessment of a particular site for change of use, right through the planning and construction stages, marketing the converted properties for sale, to letting and managing those properties bought for “buy to let” purposes.

Such involvement through the consultation and planning stages extended to selling and letting apartments at Portland House, Gerrards Cross with a studio currently for sale at £277,500 and to let @ £1000pcm. In Wooburn Green, conversion of a commercial property has created impressive, spacious, loft style apartments starting from £250,000 at Wooburn House.

A new trend for mixing business with pleasure is also emerging in the property market with chic developments of luxuriously fitted apartments above commercial units, shops and restaurants. These properties are becoming highly desirable, having shaken off the slightly downmarket reputation that living above a shop once had.

A new generation of buyers keen to buy quality apartments above high-end restaurants and shops has emerged and new developments mixing residential and quality commercial units are proving very popular. The benefits of convenience with proximity to restaurants and shops are clear and there’s often better security, day and night, with floodlit and alarmed/CCTV premises.

Prospect House is a prime example of luxury apartments, by Alfred Homes in the vibrant village location of Farnham Common. Prices start at £230,000 and over 50% of the available units were reserved immediately following launch on 15 October.

If you are buying or developing a property, it is a good idea to seek advice. The Frost Partnership works with selected industry experts to advise on a range of property issues from legal issues to surveying, finance and mortgages. For more information on investing in property see www.frostweb.co.uk.

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Phone: +44 (0) 1753 889995

Email: enquiries@bpcollins.co.uk

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