Conversions may present new opportunities for property investors if two groups of MPs have their way.
That’s because two all-party groups of MPs and Peers want the government to act to turn empty buildings into good quality, genuinely affordable homes to help end the housing and homelessness crisis.
Publishing the report from their joint inquiry into repurposing commercial properties to become residential, the All-Party Parliamentary Groups for ‘Housing Market and Delivery’ and for ‘Ending Homelessness’ found that there is significant potential for housing supply to be increased this way, providing there are safeguards in place to ensure that the homes delivered are of high quality and genuinely affordable.
During their inquiry, MPs heard that from empty local authority buildings alone there is the opportunity to create 20,000 more homes in England. This does not include the potential for conversions from the empty commercial properties owned by the private sector.
Overall, 14 per cent of retail unit space and seven per cent of office space is currently vacant.
The MPs reviewed evidence from housing and homelessness organisations, local government, planning experts and developers. There were three areas that witnesses agreed required further government action for conversions to be successful and prevent repeats of poor-quality development that have been seen in the past.
The first was that standards need to be strengthened. Amongst other recommendations, the groups are calling on the government to implement the ‘Healthy Homes Principles’ to ensure high quality homes. These are a set of standards which would apply to all new housing, including conversions, and include access to amenities such as shops, schools, GPs, green spaces and transport, fire safety, access to natural light, and ensuring that homes are warm and well-ventilated to avoid damp and mould issues.
Secondly, both Parliamentary groups are calling for all conversions to be required to make contributions towards genuinely affordable housing to help meet local need and tackle homelessness. The government has already signalled its intent to do this through the Levelling Up Bill, but the MPs are calling for the measures to be brought forward to deliver benefits in the immediate term.
Finally, the groups are calling for clearer guidance on ways in which local authorities can have greater influence over the types of conversions that take place in their area, to ensure that they align with local housing and economic development plans.
Ben Everitt, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Housing Market and Delivery, says: “We wanted to look at creative housing supply solutions that are available in the short-term, and hope that the Government will take forward our recommendations, which are both practical and pragmatic.
“This includes publishing data on the number of commercial properties that have been vacant for over two years and requiring local authorities to report on vacant buildings in their local areas. This would establish a clear picture of the potential scale of empty commercial properties which could be converted into affordable housing which is so desperately needed.”
And Florence Eshalomi, co-chair of the APPG for Ending Homelessness, adds: “We heard that conversions are best done when they are collaborative, particularly with the involvement of local authorities, housing associations and other socially minded organisations.
To enable not for profit and community-led organisations to make use of the potential to convert empty commercial property into residential use, both APPGs would support methods to incentivise high-quality and consortia approaches.”