Office Block Conversions and Their Downfalls

Author: Samuel Beckingham
Updated: Jul 26, 2023
3 minutes read

Low carbon flats are being built at 45 Beech Street, relatively close to the Barbican. The former site of a £30 million office block is being converted into green housing by HubCap. The business concerns itself with reusing buildings for low carbon purposes, and follows another development in Ludgate Hill.

Older office blocks are a bit of an issue with modern building standards, as they don’t meet modern environmental rules. Companies like HubCap make it their job to convert these buildings into modern equivalents and help provide housing to the local area.

Under planning permissions, offices can be converted into homes much easier with the help of deregulation back in 2013. This means that it comes under permitted developments and helps to provide more homes throughout the UK in an attempt to tackle the housing crisis. This hasn’t all been sunshine and rainbows though.

Assessments of the scheme from 2015–2017 found that some developers were ditching plans to build new homes in favour of permitted developments. As it was more profitable to do so, the lack of homes wasn’t being tackled effectively as companies sought to profiteer instead. Some projects featured individual flats that were estimated to be 40% smaller than a Travelodge room.

Not only were developers profiteering by churning out “dog kennel” homes, but it was estimated that 7,500 affordable homes were lost to permitted developments at the time. A small study of this number discovered that the majority (77%) of these flats were converted into studio or one bedroom flats, which only catered to a small market. Coming in at 15m², they were far smaller than the minimum 37m² recommended in national space standards for one bedroom homes.

On the other hand, brownfield sites are the most economical way to provide homes. Instead of building on land that has never had any development, brownfield uses existing structures or simply replaces what was standing there. To conserve our natural land, brownfield sites are more economical.

One of the reasons why office conversions are so appealing is that older blocks aren’t fit for the modern needs of employees. Businesses will not be able to attract and retain staff in buildings that don’t have proper facilities and spaces. Instead, it’s more impactful to turn centralised locations into homes. At the same time, updating their structure to feature low carbon dwellings will increase the appeal and aid the transition to net zero.

Another report on office block conversions from Zurich UK stated that these blocks could become uninhabitable as the effects of climate change worsen. The increased risk comes from poor design and a lack of ventilation or shading, which could cause them to overheat. As the world gradually becomes hotter, this issue is becoming more potentially fatal. It means that more housing stock could become unliveable in the future.

The solution should be to make use of these brownfield sites in a careful and considerate way. While making money and building homes is good in the short term, the long term goal should be to adapt to climate change to mitigate the effects that will inevitably be seen in our lifetimes.