Welcome to our app-only issue - an ultra-convenient tablet edition bursting with content specially devised to keep those of you jealously watching colleagues swan off on their holidays up to date with the latest property news and views, and hopefully a few of you on holiday too.
After all, we’re all digital natives now (I reason that as many of us have been digital users for longer than some true digital natives have been alive, we should be able to lay stake such a claim).
On the subject of digital, this might be a bit of a stretch, but I see parallels between the multi-channel media we now routinely consume and the mixed-use development schemes the industry is now looking routinely to develop.
How so? Well, a core part of many of these mixed use schemes is residential - and just as digital has impacted print media, residential is impacting the rest of the property market.
I had an illuminating discussion this week with Savills about the importance of accelerating the delivery of housing supply. It raised some interesting questions about the whole housing agenda ahead of party conference season, during which we can only assume the talk will be of the need for more units and faster.
But, playing devil’s advocate, what does this mean for commercial property? We’ve already seen old offices redeveloped into residential and government is now in consultation over whether to allow light industrial sites to be changed to resi use without the need for planning permission too.
Taking this argument to its logical conclusion, where are the workers going to work if we keep changing the use of our commercial buildings? Industrial occupiers will experience a shortage of supply, just as office occupiers have. Indeed, in London, they already are: as we reported last week, the amount of industrial floorspace in the capital has fallen dramatically thanks partly to the housing boom (‘Lack of housing development puts pressure on industrial,’ Property Week, 1 August, p39).
Only days earlier, the RICS had put out its Commercial Market Survey showing sharp falls in office and industrial space availability, tellingly coupled with an increase in the number of commercial properties sold with permitted development rights to be converted into residential during the quarter. A whopping 49% of respondents said that this was having a “moderate” impact on commercial activity, while 18% said it was having a “substantial” impact.
In a fragile economy, we could find ourselves cutting off our nose to spite our face - harming business to help residential. The worst case scenario is that without successful businesses occupying affordable premises, we won’t have people in jobs - and without jobs, we won’t have home buyers. Yet there’s plenty of edge of town, brownfield and green field sites (not green belt note) that are ripe for residential development. Shouldn’t we look to these instead of the quick-fix schemes the government is considering?
Or is this really primarily a London problem? The danger certainly didn’t register as a broader one particularly with some of the agents I spoke to this week. And as one pointed out, it’s a bit old school to see workplaces simply as office or industrial premises these days when so many of us now work regularly from home. Or, depressingly, on holiday… although if you are reading this on a beach somewhere, don’t be depressed. Enjoy!