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Permitted development - good for the city's economy?

PUBLISHED: 11:10 05 February 2018 | UPDATED: 11:28 05 February 2018

Grosvenor House on Prince of Wales Road, a former office block which is now converted to residential and apartments. Photo: Supplied.

Grosvenor House on Prince of Wales Road, a former office block which is now converted to residential and apartments. Photo: Supplied.

Archant

Is allowing offices to be turned into residential homes a good idea, or is it creating problems for businesses seeking homes? Sam Kingston, partner with Roche Chartered Surveyors, considers the effects of 'permitted development'.

Norwich, like many cities, has seen a vast number of offices converted to residential uses, under what is known as Permitted Development, whereby conversion is possible without planning permission.

Full permitted development rights became possible in 2015 and were seen as a way to reduce the number of vacant offices across regional cities.

Many 1970s offices had become both economically and physically obsolete and there was little chance of them being used again as office accommodation – so permitted development allowed the property to be used for alternative purposes.

Three years on and Norwich has seen approximately 700,000 sq ft of space removed from the office market.

In my opinion there comes a turning point where loss of office space to residential, or alternative uses, becomes detrimental to the economy. The occupational market for offices has changed fundamentally, with less space needed per worker and with flexibility required by businesses that need to be able to react to an ever changing economy.

If Norwich loses too many offices to alternative uses, occupiers have too little to choose from and there is potential that existing established businesses look to competing centres for opportunities. Just as importantly, new entrants considering Norwich as a base see there are limited suitable offices for their business – so don’t venture any further than an internet search.

The redevelopment has been good for the city to date. Older, unviable offices have been converted, giving the centre new life, with more residents and visually enhanced properties; but the loss of many more offices could, I believe, be detrimental.

The total amount of office space on the market is around 330,000sq ft and the total take up in 2017 was in the region of 300,000sq ft, with some of this space going to residential uses. With no new development in the pipeline there is the potential that occupiers are left with such a small choice of space, they have to consider alternative locations.

Norwich is the key office centre in Norfolk and it is important that opportunities remain for businesses to ensure the continued growth of the city, enabling it to expand its increasingly important life sciences and digital and marketing businesses, which bring added value jobs to a city which is witnessing the loss of valued companies such as Britvic and Colmans.

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