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Conversions - should there be more of them?

Conversions, often seen as a likely property type for private landlords, are likely to be more common 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.”

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  • icon

    Will there be any work place left, they have done so much of those Conversions with Office Buildings & Head Quarters already, many poorly done,
    5 such Blocks of Offices with-in a few hundred meters of Hanger Lane Station, one had 3 storey added formed with Tin Cladding what an eye sore and I seen one for Sale with an EPC ‘D’, is there nothing else left in the Country only Residential.
    Where are the jobs coming from when all this madness stops ? as well as having a place to live they’ll need something to live on, the private landlord robbery scam will have dried up.

  • Peter Why Do I Bother

    20000 more houses? Considering they need approximately 250-300k per year to standstill this is a hardly making a difference? Also over the last 30 years or so loads of private landlords bought run down buildings and houses and brought them back to life...!

    It wasn't magic it was people motivated to make a difference and exercise a little entrepreneurial flair, now as we can see the government has switched off that tap of regeneration because who in their right mind would by a wreck and have the following costs. 3% SDLT, Refurb, No Tax Break on the mortgage, Sell For A Profit CGT, If Employed Kicked Into A Higher Tax Bracket.

    Well done Gove you complete Balloon....

  • icon

    Conversions can be tricky. While the locations may be fantastic, the actual space and structure can be problematic. Three of my flats are conversions - two were originally office space above shops and the other one was a Victorian house divided into 4 flats. One of them has a great floorplan but various structural and access issues. The other two have slightly unfortunate floorplans. Tenants seem to like the locations so they rent out easily but I would question how appealing they would be to owner occupiers.

    Peter Why Do I Bother

    With you there Jo, Georgian Townhouse split into four. Beautiful building and to be honest I have never had a void in 20 years. Two tenants been in as long as I have had it, never increased the rent as they are as good as gold.

    However due to recent changes and the direction of travel I have unfortunately had to increase them by an eye watering amount to the market rate. The 30k I have suffered as a hit with two tenants acting up has forced the issue. They still wish to stay and fully understand why I have had to increase.

  • Franklin I

    I don't think conversions are the government's problems or solutions.

    They need to look more into the big 5 house builders in the UK.

    An example, is when the government releases land for the main house builders, the builder's are required by law, to reserve 25% in each council, for affordable housing.

    The builder's ignore this request most of the times, and when planning permission has been granted for 7 storeys, it's not uncommon for the house builders to just forge ahead and build 10 storeys.

    The people that actually lose out, are the ones seeking affordable housing.

    This converts potential FTB, back to the PRS, and the LL's become the scapegoats once again for something we didn't create.

  • icon

    I seen that new Development were supposed to be so much affordable and some part rent / part buy got extra flats in there because of that.
    When the Development was finished none of that, the Developers gave Council £800k compensation to scrap that and now control the whole Block a bargain.
    This is no one off I have seen other cases as well.


    Yes, developers are allowed to use the 'not economically viable' argument to reduce the standard 30% affordable housing requirement (50% in London). Where they can argue it isn't viable to hand any actual homes over, a financial contribution to the council building affordable homes elsewhere means they can say they are still making a contribution to affordable housing provision.

    Not saying this is right or wrong, but some can be more creative with figures.
    When I last looked at it, the allowance in guidance for developers profit in viability calculations was still 15-20%.


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