With life leaving the retail centres of many towns, developers are eyeing up commercial property for residential conversion. With multi tenanted buildings as the end result, are we acting in an appropriate manner or are we constructing ticking time bombs? In many cases, creating residential space from commercial use can create problems, so what issues do developers have to be aware of and what are the pitfalls? Mary-Anne Bowring, Managing Director of the Ringley Group, gives her viewpoint.
Life has been leaving our town centres for as long as I can remember. Nostalgically one can look back and see Britain as a proud nation of shopkeepers, so what happened? Was it the car, the large supermarkets or planning policy that killed off our high streets? What role can developers play in its revival? A recent RICS survey of members identified the decline as being a direct result of the emerging popularity of the out of town retail parks.
Maybe it all started with Henry Ford, who in 1908 said: "I will build a car for the great multitude" resulting in the Model T. And with the results of the 1908 census showing a boom in car ownership, perhaps Henry succeeded. Car Free Section 106 restrictions were listed in the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 and many planning permissions given since then might seem illogical. New developments often sit side by side with existing ones where quotas range from 0.6 spaces per unit to 1.8 spaces per unit. It is then left for the private sector to police the excess parking that migrates from one site to its adjoining neighbours.
Personally, I welcome the long overdue Mary Portas Town Centre Review which was commissioned by government in December 2011, but what will emerge to be the town centre of the future has yet to be seen. It is clear that our largely Victorian or pre-war high streets do not meet modern day requirements; parking provision is poor and expensive, units are often small and suffer lack of ceiling height or opportunities for mezzanine floors, have basement stock areas and are built on a grid system with more structural partitions than is recommended. Business rates are high, and unlike shopping centres a start up rarely gets the opportunity of a turnover rent.