PUBLISHED BY INSIDE HOUSING (25.07.23)
By Dan Tapscott, Head of Neighbourly Matters at Rapleys
There are plenty of challenges for the UK’s housing market, and not enough solutions being raised that have practical delivery. So it was refreshing to read about a recent survey by Habitat for Humanity in the Architects Journal (22 June 2023) which estimated about 7,000 Local Authority buildings could be refurbished to create more than 19,500 homes across the UK.
The figures were extrapolated from the 80% of Local Authorities that responded to the survey, which covered commercial and business premises across the country that had been vacant for over 12 months as of 2020.
But what if we aren’t thinking big enough? Perhaps this is just the tip of the iceberg? Shouldn’t we be aiming higher?
It’s now 2023 and who knows the real number of underused, vacant or soon to be obsolete buildings. In this time, we’ve had Covid – which has accelerated a new way of working with many companies unsure about the future role of the office and most operating some form of flexible or hybrid operation. We’ve seen many household names vanish from our high streets and retail parks leaving behind the common sight of empty windows wherever you are in the country, Economic uncertainty, rising inflation and interest rates and the difficulty to forecast, well, anything, has added further pressure to businesses.
And that’s still not including the underused or aging concrete framed Council car parks or private properties which have been grappling with sustainability legislation. On the latter, my own colleagues at Rapleys recently estimated that the 130,000 commercial premises with an EPC rating for F&G will require financing of almost £14bn to get them just up to an E rating so that they can continue to be utilised. An unlikely success story with banks having shut shop on lending above a C and even a B in recent years. Local Authorities could bring any or all of these sites to market via Compulsory Purchase Powers over the next several years to mean a steady supply of sites ripe for conversion to help solve the nation’s housing crisis.
But how to do it?
This is where the combination of public and private sector becomes a greater force. Practitioners in Neighbourly Matters, for example, may not be the obvious pick but in actual fact we understand challenging inner city sites and how to overcome complexities and manage risks to maximise development potential. On a daily basis, in cities across the UK, we deal with planning (Daylight & Sunlight Amenity), legal issues (Rights to Light), statutory obligations (Party Wall) and practical enabling matters (Access Arrangements such as for crane or scaffolding).
This enables not just the delivery of awkward sites but the understanding of how to add further homes on the footprint. Imagine the number of previously dismissed sites due to complexities that a skilled team of Neighbourly Matters consultants could unlock the potential behind, whilst brokering neighbourly support at the same time!
We may have started from a low base when it comes from housing delivery but with this kind of thinking, the only way is up.