Last week, it was announced that retailer John Lewis is planning to turn retail space it no longer needs into mixed-use affordable housing.
This would see commercial retail estate repurposed to, what John Lewis chairwoman Dame Sharon White described as, “good social use”. No further details have been given on how excess store space will be used for private and affordable housing but a further update is expected in the autumn.
This announcement has come soon after the recent publication of new use classes and proposed changes to the Planning rules, including the relaxation of permitted development right being pushed through parliament. The new use classes are due to come into force by the end of August 2020 and, among other things, will supposedly make it easier for shops and other retail units to be re-purposed as residential units.
With the level of homelessness apparent in our city streets (a particular problem in Southampton and Winchester), one might be forgiven for thinking this was a good thing. However, many of the great and the good within the property professions are unhappy.
The introduction of PDR (Permitted Development Rights) by David Cameron and George Osbourne during the coalition government has had some bad publicity. It has led to a number of hastily developed and, in some cases, quite badly thought out and executed developments resulting in people living in cramped conditions with inadequate facilities. It has been argued by some that such cramped conditions have contributed to incidences of COVID-19 infection in these overcrowded so-called “modern slums”. Furthermore, the absence of any proper planning or building control may have contributed to a number of schemes, of which Grenfell Tower may have been effected, where flammable cladding has created potential death traps.
It's to be hoped that John Lewis, with its reputation for quality and value for money, would not be drawn into any such schemes. However, I doubt that John Lewis will be the ones doing the developing. It is to be hoped that the lessons of the recent past will have been learned. Campaigns are afoot to ensure any new PDR is guaranteed to have certain area minimum specifications to ensure suitable living accommodation. That is, of course, a basic human right.
So, are our shops and offices going to become things of the past? I don’t believe so. Although, it is going to take a long time for the recovery to start. Replacing our high streets with “affordable housing” is unlikely, however a new mix of building use will no doubt start to happen.
If you are faced with needing to rationalise your property portfolio or to discuss ideas around possible re-purposing your buildings with the assistance, or otherwise, of your tenants please do come and speak to the experts at Dutton Gregory: