Back in early 2013, as many readers will be aware, the government modified planning regulations to allow residential property developers to convert commercial office buildings into residential use without the need in many cases to go through the standard planning approval process. This process is known as ‘Permitted Development’ (PD) and in the last six years many developers have seized the opportunity to convert and successfully create high quality homes for property buyers and tenants.
However, this regulatory change, like so many, has attracted adverse comment and political opposition. The two main criticisms are that some local authorities do not want to lose employment space (offices) in their respective local area, despite strong demand for more housing often being clearly evident. Quite a number of councils in recent years, particularly in London, have also resorted to using another planning regulation (Article 4 restrictions) to curtail the number of ‘commercial conversions’ taking place.
The second oft-aired objection to allowing PD conversions from offices to residential accommodation is that it allows property developers to bypass ‘space standards’ and to carve up open-plan office spaces into ‘smaller boxes’. It is fair to say that in some cases the critics do have a solid argument, with poor quality social sector housing for tenants on benefits being created into very small rooms by some ‘sharp operators’.
Bearing all the above in mind, I arrived with an open mind to take a closer look at two smallish schemes in Berkshire now nearing completion and to learn more from property developer Chris Hamilton.
I begin by asking Chris why he chose property investment and what was the trigger for him to start? - “I got into property development in 2004, following several years of long distance sailing on a self-built catamaran and having children along the way, we ended up in Oman and a chance meeting then resulted in a job offer.
“The outcome was to project manage three Shangri-La prestige hotels on the outskirts of Muscat. Following the successful conclusion of that project, another very significant, multi-billion project was tabled with myself to run it. This I undertook along with my team, under the label of one of the world’s largest consultancy companies - and which happens to be British. This particular project was the largest construction project in the Middle East at the time, until Dubai Airport took over that title.