Warehouse conversions back to the fore

Recent changes to the planning regulations, which have yet to be fully ratified, could mean that you can now convert light industrial buildings and warehouses into homes without the need for a major planning application. That takes the risk out of a major conversion and means that there could be some spectacular property in the dingier parts of town before long.

London alone has thousands of disused warehouses and this change, along with the one that allows for the conversion of office buildings into homes, could pave the way for savvy developers to take on projects that they might not have touched beforehand. It’s a cohesive strategy by the coalition government to allow developers a freer hand in the properties they take on and to allow the man in the street to buy a commercial building, safe in the knowledge that the planners won’t get in the way of progress and they can convert it into a dream home.

It’s the kind of thing that Grand Designs’ Kevin McCloud would love to take us round, an old industrial unit lovingly converted into a family home in the centre of the urban sprawl.

A consultation document for the Department for Communities and Local Government recommended a prior approval system for office conversions, so planning officers would have to assess any likely impact on flooding, contamination and additional noise, but for a normal residential development these would not be a factor. The DCLG wants to address the housing shortage in new and aggressive ways and to find a new use for industrial units that lie empty around the country.

The Greater London Authority, which could stand to benefit the most from these radical changes that would allow developers to turn some of the capital’s most blighted areas into luxury living spaces, could yet object to the measures. Mayor Boris Johnson is thought to be keen on maintaining London’s industrial roots, although the potential profit to be made, as well as the job creation aspect of the developments, could sway his decision.

Of course the potential for this kind of development is staggering. Warehouses are, by definition, massive industrial spaces that could allow for multiple apartments or one, stunning, open plan house. The loft conversions that became so fashionable in New York and the East End of London could be just the start; empty, disused industrial spaces have the potential to become a canvas that architectural artists could use to create stunning living spaces that rival the most extravagant purpose-built apartment blocks in the major cities.

London, Birmingham and Manchester were all major players in the industrial revolution, but manufacturing and engineering are declining in the UK and many of the major companies, like car manufacturers, have no use for small industrial units dotted around the city centre. Many become makeshift office blocks for a variety of companies, but developers could take these monolithic blocks and create artisanal living spaces.

The future of the humble warehouse is an interesting one indeed, and you can rest assured that Kevin McCloud will be eulogising over more than a few in the years ahead.