The times, so they say, are changing, and so are our city centres. Office blocks that were once a symbol of modernity and progression in the 1960s and 70s are being re-evaluated for their style and purpose. Many lie empty, no longer ‘fit for purpose’, a blot on an otherwise untroubled landscape. Ricky Gervais and his ‘Office’ colleagues have moved out.
Planning regulations have been relaxed to allow many of these sorry buildings to be re-developed. Structures that were once an eyesore in towns such as Croydon and Maidstone are being turned into flats and apartments, addressing the housing shortage and bringing new life to otherwise irrelevant constructions. Two of our recent instructions illustrate the point: Miller House in Maidstone is being converted to create 99 flats over 10 floors, while still retaining two floors for commercial use; at another development in Waltham Cross (Eleanor House), 40 flats were sold in 39 minutes, such is the demand.
Some Local Authorities, of course, are understandably nervous for what they see as losing control of development in their jurisdiction. Some are at loggerheads with the Government since the changes to permitted development have come from the top down.
The current extension to permitted development runs until May 2016, leaving many developers understandably in a quandary. Any projects starting now that remain uncompleted by the early summer of next year run the theoretical risk of having to be returned to their original state and this is putting the brakes on current activity. There is talk that the relaxation will be extended, possibly for another three years. Such is the controversy, however, that the smart money is on May 2018. Whatever is decided, let’s hope that a decision comes soon and that life, quite literally, returns to our town and city centres.