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Changes to the town planning system arising from the introduction in 2010 of the National Planning Policy Framework, have led to an increase in the demand from residential developers for vacant office buildings, report property consultants Barford + Co.

And with more initiatives due to come into force in June this year which are designed to “free up” the planning system, it will be easier for developers to convert offices to flats or other types of residential units without the need for planning permission.

Barfords have already found that there has already been an increased demand for freehold office buildings where the purchasers are intending to convert the property to flats or housing.

The company has just concluded the sale of Grove House, an imposing Grade II Listed Building at Little Paxton near St Neots, on behalf of its client Grove House Investments. The property was last used as offices but has been vacant for approximately two years. With a built floor area of around 7,000 sq ft, the purchaser intends to convert the property to one larger dwelling and four flats.

Barford + Co also recently concluded the sale of 2 Bridge Place, Godmanchester which again was formerly used as offices but has been bought for conversion to six flats. Both properties were sold “as seen” without planning permission for change of use having first being obtained.

Commenting on behalf of Barford + Co, Director Phil, Halmshaw said “It is interesting that the impact of a Government policy which has not yet come into force appears to be having a positive impact on a sector of the market which has been struggling. This is providing an alternative source of demand for properties which are not saleable as offices”.

In the past, developers would have been extremely reluctant to buy offices for conversion to residential without planning permission having been first obtained” he added.

Barfords have reported that office demand remains patchy, and values have fallen by over 30% from the peak of the commercial market in 2007.

“There is an oversupply of offices in many parts of the UK and this is coupled with a perceived housing shortage. The Government policy is sensible and allows these buildings to now find purchasers, often at better prices than would otherwise have been the case for offices” stated Mr Halmshaw.

Barfords have however sounded a note of caution to property owners. They point out that the detail of the latest Government proposals is presently being put together and it should not be assumed that all offices can automatically convert to residential use. It is likely the local authority will need to be notified of the intention to change the use from offices to residential and they may in certain circumstances be able to insist on a planning application being submitted. This may occur where the office is affected by for example a flood risk or noise disturbance, in which case the building owner would need to be able to demonstrate that there would be no risk to domestic residents if the use was changed from offices to residential.

As a result of the changes in planning policy, Barford + Co expects there to be an increasing interest in office buildings which are proving difficult to sell. For more information on the new policies, interested parties are invited to contact Phil Halmshaw or Martin Page at Barford + Co on 01480 213811. 



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