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Letter: Convert Empty Offices And Shops To Residential Space

Published on: 26 Aug, 2020
Updated on: 26 Aug, 2020

From Jules Cranwell

(see also Opinion: Pushing More Building Into the South-east Will Be An Electoral Kiss Of Death For The Party That Forces)

According to a BBC survey, reported this morning, of 50 major firms, none has a plan to return all staff full-time to the office in the near future. Just under half (24) did not have any plans in place to return workers to the office.

Having managed law firms, I can attest that real estate is the biggest cost, after labour. Such firms will be divesting of much or all of their real estate, as soon as the opportunity presents. My last law firm (the biggest in Canada) has already seen a big improvement in productivity, since it moved to 100% home working in March. Why would it retain empty office space?

As to Guildford, a solution is needed to reuse the increasing amount of empty office and retail space. The obvious answer is residential conversion, which is encouraged by central government.

This would allow the council to restore protection of greenbelt and countryside, and perhaps restore some credibility in the eyes of the voting public.

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Responses to Letter: Convert Empty Offices And Shops To Residential Space

  1. David Middleton Reply

    August 26, 2020 at 2:40 pm

    But let’s not forget, many employees prefer to go to a place of work and entirely separate their work and home life.

  2. John Lomas Reply

    August 26, 2020 at 10:11 pm

    “My last law firm (the biggest in Canada) has already seen a big improvement in productivity, since it moved to 100% home working in March.”

    One has to ask have they passed on the savings in business property taxes and utility costs to their employees? Do the employees residences now become business premises? What about insurance costs for people working from home, do they now require business insurance?

  3. Peter Ambrose Reply

    August 27, 2020 at 11:04 am

    Homeworking for all may be OK in Canada where houses are far cheaper and more generously proportioned and it has it’s place in the UK.

    However, in the UK, home ownership is nosediving with the average first time buyer now well into their 30s, and our homes are much smaller.

    The result is that home working is not practical for the millions of people who don’t have a spare room to work in.

    I know I would not be productive working from a single room or kitchen in a shared house, or from a living room I share with pre-school age kids.

  4. D Smith Reply

    August 27, 2020 at 2:50 pm

    The UOP building opposite Barker and Stonehouse on Ladymead is to be converted to residential – I presume the carpark and hardstanding will form amenity space for the occupiers who will end up living between a busy trunk road and the A3.

    Is this the type of homes we should be providing?

    Shame on the Nimbys who would rather see new generations living in crampt and non purpose built housing than take their fair share of Guildford’s housing need.

    • Lisa Wright Reply

      August 27, 2020 at 7:29 pm

      Why do you assume that a new build on that site will be filled with crampt, not fit for purpose homes. Surely it’s Guildford Borough Councils responsibility to make sure home’s are built to certain sizes and quality?

      Assuming good quality homes are built, would they be any different from those around the station or along any main road?

  5. Jules Cranwell Reply

    August 27, 2020 at 7:07 pm

    Is 8,000 homes around the Horleys a fair distribution?

  6. D Smith Reply

    August 27, 2020 at 10:02 pm

    The developer behind the UOP building used permitted development rights to carve the office building up into 72 apartments and therefore GBC had little to no control as to what housing was delivered.

    Of course these flats will provide a water tight home for people and so technically they are fit for purpose. What I said was, that they are not purpose built. Many offices and retail shops cannot easily be converted to residential since they were never designed with that in mind – look at the apartments adjacent to the Star Inn where the occupiers complained of the noise and see how that ended?

    How can you covert the standard empty retail shop that’s often deep, with only one wall with windows on? Whilst there will of course be opportunities, these buildings seldom deliver the acceptable standard of housing that we need and quite frankly that we should accept.

    The property market is booming in Guildford currently, but like everything it has been affected by Covid. People now more than ever want gardens and outside space – ask any agent in town how flats are selling and they will give you the same answer. Have a look at the site allocations in Guildford town and then you will quickly realise why there is no alternative now but to start building on greenbelt.

    Jules Cranwell, in a former letter states that many workers will not return to offices Isn’t this reason enough, that we need to be building bigger and better homes?

  7. Alistair Smith Reply

    August 28, 2020 at 10:30 am

    A report by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government published in July 2020 found that – Overall, only 22.1% of dwelling units created through Permitted Development Rights (often used for office to housing conversion) would meet the nationally described space standards (NDSS), compared to 73.4% of units created through full planning permission.

    The White Paper – Planning for the Future makes no effort to close the loophole in the planning system that allows substandard conversions. NDSS is not a high bar!

    Sadly the government, despite saying the opposite, are in reality going for quantity rather than quality.

    Alistair Smith is chair of the Guildford Society.

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