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  • Andrew Owen, Worthington Owen

North West property experts react to PDR extension

Commercial property insiders have spoken out about what lies ahead for the North West’s office stock, following the government’s decision to make permitted development rights (PDR) permanent.

PDRs, which allow underused office buildings to be turned into residential accommodation without planning permission, were temporarily introduced in 2013 and were due to expire in May 2016.

However housing and planning minister, Brandon Lewis announced yesterday (Tuesday 13 October) that the rights will now be in place permanently to help provide new homes, ‘breathe new life’ into neighbourhoods and protect green belt land.

Referring to Liverpool city centre in particular, Andrew Owen of Worthington Owen says: “Given much of the vacant stock is ideally suited to residential conversion, the announcement of permanent PDRs can only assist in increasing levels of investment whilst at the same time finding a use for the city’s many vacant buildings, many of which are unlikely to ever re-let as offices.”

Meanwhile Neil Kirkham, associate director at the Liverpool office of CBRE, says the news is being seen as “positive”, adding that so far with the likes of grade C and D offices having been converted it is “mopping up inferior quality office accommodation which in the short or long term will help, but it needs to be monitored”.

Concerns have been raised over the impact further conversions may have on cities like Liverpool with a low amount of newly available stock and forthcoming development as Stuart Keppie, partner at Keppie Massie, adds: “Employment is of paramount importance to the welfare of Liverpool city centre and if the existing stock is likely to dwindle this would seem to re-enforce the need for new office space not only to encourage new occupiers to the city but to retain the existing corporates and professionals.”

Meanwhile in Manchester, the city centre is one of a number of zones across the country which are currently exempt from the rights, and the local authority will have until May 2019 to take action if they wish to retain the requirement of planning applications to change the use of buildings.

Tim Heatley, founder of Capital & Centric, suggests that whilst he welcomes the overall extension decision, such exemption zones should be kept in place.

He says: “I like the idea of exemption zones that Manchester implemented; it focuses apartments in areas that can benefit most without using up essential office provision. I’d encourage the other big cities take a similar approach.”

Within the announcement, the government also revealed that further information follow on new rights to change the use of light industrial buildings and laundrettes to residential, and also on limited rights allowing for demolition of offices and new build as residential use.