Bristol has one of the highest office to residential conversions outside London

Mark Alker Stone

Bristol has seen nearly half a million sq ft of office space converted into residential property – the highest rate outside of London.

Bristol City Council’s planning department has received 123 notifications from developers planning to convert office space since the rules were changed in May 2013, which together have the potential to create 1,995 new homes.

Between May 2013 when the planning changes came in and the Spring of 2015, the council had received 69 notifications for change of use to create 1,240 residential units, with average loss of office space of 12,500 ft², according to an earlier report carried out for the BCO in 2015.

These units, based on Council estimates, equated to a loss of 870,000 ft² of office space.

Since then a further 54 notifications have been submitted. Of all 123 notifications, it is estimated that 54% have already been implemented leading to the loss of more than 470,000 ft² of office space. Work on the remainder has yet to start.

While this may be good news for house buyers, it has led to a shortage of commercial space in the city pushing up rents for businesses.

In Bristol city centre, some Grade B office rents have increased from £10 to £25 per sq ft per annum in just five years, according to one Bristol property expert.

This has led to some office to residential conversion proposals such as the Programme, formerly known as The Pithay, near Broadmead, being reviewed and delivered to the market as office refurbishments.

The new ‘permitted development’ rules introduced in 2013 require developers to notify planning departments of their intention to convert office space.

If local authorities do not respond, the developers have the right to proceed. Where local authorities demand further detail, they can then approve or reject the proposals but only on much narrower grounds than under the normal planning system.

Mark Alker Stone, Chairman, BCO SW and Wales Chapter added: “There is no denying that more housing is needed in Bristol, and the conversion of some older buildings which are no longer suitable as offices is a sensible solution. However, once office space is lost to residential development, it is often lost for good.

“This loss means that many Bristol businesses will not have access to office space of the right quality, in the right location, to succeed and drive growth.”