According to new research by the Federation of Master Builders, more than 90% of MPs think that converting empty spaces above shops could help reverse the current housing shortage in their constituency. The survey results, which have been published today alongside a new research report by the FMB entitled ‘Homes on our high streets’, shows that MPs believe converting empty spaces above shops could have a number of positive consequences, including:

· 94% of MPs believe it could reverse the housing shortage in their constituency;
· 89% of MPs say it could boost local growth in their area;
· 86% of MPs think it could have a positive impact on the vibrancy of their town centres.

Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), said: “It is estimated that as many as 300,000 to 400,000 new homes could be created by making use of empty spaces above shops on our high streets. This is space just waiting to be turned into residential accommodation. The fact that 90% of MPs of all parties recognise the potential of our existing buildings to help solve the housing crisis means we need to be more imaginative if we are going to build the 300,000 homes a year that the Chancellor pledged in last month’s Budget.”

 Berry continued: “Taking a number of case studies from town centres from right across Great Britain, our research highlights the opportunities that exist for creating new homes in a range of different building types. It demonstrates what could be achieved by innovative and ambitious development. The report puts councils at the heart of the solution and suggests some practical ways for them to facilitate the development of wasted space above shops.

Local authorities should include proposals to make use of these empty spaces in their planning documents and also help find ways to overcome the various barriers, such as limited building access, so that we can tap into this much needed source of additional housing supply. Building new homes is important, but a great deal can also be achieved through making better use of our existing buildings.”

Berry concluded: “Over the past decade, as consumer habits have changed with the rise of online shopping, high streets are struggling to remain relevant. There will always be a place for vibrant high streets within our market towns but if not all of this space can be used for commercial reasons, let’s make use of it for residential and help increase the supply of new homes. These sorts of properties would be ideal for young professionals, or young families just starting out, as they benefit from good transport links and are close to shops, bars and restaurants. What we must avoid is perfectly good space lying empty and achieving nothing in terms of boosting the local economy or housing individuals and families.”

I wouldn’t disagree with any of this, however local authorities and developers have to seriously think about things like parking for residents, the quality and “comfort” of the build and even town centre security. Without serious consideration developments can become unpopular with premium buyers and will only attract investors looking to buy at a discount, or those who cannot afford a premium product. Neither are great for the long term reputation of the development, which is, long after the builder has exited the site, still their legacy. We’ve seen too many conversions that were done for the short term profit, not long term potential of the site.

If you are thinking of converting or splitting a property, or incorporating residential units into an existing space, then call me today for a free site/scheme review and demand/market appraisal. We have advised developers across Rugby, Leamington, Banbury, Solihull, Coventry and Birmingham City Centre and are well versed in how to target your scheme’s ideal buyer, whilst maximizing your return.

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