Can London’s office space be repurposed like New York’s?

It sounds like a great idea. In the new hybrid working era, why not repurpose all that redundant office space for residential use? It would energise city centres and maybe even make a dent in the housing shortage without upsetting NIMBYs in leafy key constituencies.

There are obstacles.

Contractors tell me that converting a building designed for one kind of occupancy to another is fraught with difficulties.

How comfortably would lower cost housing sit alongside pricey commercial Grade A office tenancies?

Given the technical challenges, would developers be interested to provide affordable homes in former city centre office bocks? Or would they need to be incentivised?

At a London Chamber of Commerce gathering, I heard how the City of London Corporation wants to breathe after hours life into its canyons of steel.

What might that look like?

A hop across the pond gives us some clues.

There hybrid work has dried up demand for physical offices. Demand from developers is now for spaces that they can turn into luxury apartments.

Office vacancies in the US are the highest for close to 30 years. In London, 8.4 per cent of offices are unoccupied compared with they typical five per cent.

The amount of redevelopment in the US is not huge compared with the amount of office space available but it’s five times more than seven years ago, according to CBRE.

If residential doesn’t work, what’s happening in New York suggests other options. Hotels are one conversion that seems to work as too, surprisingly, are life science laboratories.

In the US, as in the UK, planning can be an issue when a target property for conversion is not in a residential zone. That makes the City of London’s commitment to diversification worth watching.

If you’re an office landlord looking to attract tenants, read our client’s blog on the importance of getting ICT right.

At Hopwood PR and Communications, we specialise in comms and stakeholder engagement in the built environment.

If you’re an occupier, check out our client Abintra. They can help you make the most of your space.

If you’re a developer or property owner interested in repurposing space, get in touch and let me put you in contact with fitout contractors, funders and other partners who can help. We can also connect you with planning consultants and help you to get your messages to policymakers right. 

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