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Help end the housing crisis by reusing empty offices

Under plans announced back in January 2021, the new ‘Right to Regenerate’ policy allows the public to convert vacant plots of land and derelict buildings into new homes.

Just a year later 250,000 (some would say 650,000 was a more realistic figure) of uninhabited dwellings were recorded, unthinkable really.

This is a shocking statistic to consider especially given that the Government plans to build 300,000 new homes each year to negate the housing crisis we find ourselves in.

Bear in mind that these figures don't account for historic buildings such as disused mills, deconsecrated churches, and farms, all which have the potential of becoming habitable.

So why is this the case?

Possibly the lack of money and expertise to deal with old structures? The complexities of our planning system?  The local economy?

In fact, all are an issue.

Owners of listed properties pay 20% Vat on repairs whereas a new build is 0%!

Kirsty Hammond Kirsty Hammond Editor of Specifer Review

Deprived and depraved

As you might expect, there are more vacant buildings in areas of deprivation. The costs of retrofitting modern and sustainable elements into an existing historic property can also be complex and pricey.

However, the longer a building remains empty the more expensive it becomes to restore, and the less likely it will be fit for living.

Our councils do in fact have the power to resurrect our derelict buildings, so why is it that they stand there empty?

Interestingly owners of listed properties are required to pay 20% Vat on repairs whereas a new build 0%!

We are mostly comfortable with the concept of recycling, particularly at home with regards to our household waste but have you ever considered the same could be and should be done for our buildings.

The construction industry as we are aware is the world's largest consumer of raw materials and single handedly responsible for a large percentage of our damaging carbon emissions.

Building materials, once used, end up in landfill.

Disassemble or retrofit

On a brighter note many cities and architects are now building with a long-term view, with disassembly in mind, and with retrofit being the answer to housing shortages.

Demolishing a building is simply easier than retrofitting it.

However once bulldozed all the construction materials are useless. Once broken and mixed together, landfill is the only option.

Deconstruction has to be preferable over demolition, surely..

It’s clear that a few years on since the Covid pandemic, hybrid working is here to stay, many city offices are sporadically empty.

Throughout Europe it is estimated that there is 250 million square feet of vacant office space ripe to be utilised.

Planning reform could be a solution, alongside creativity. Developers should start to seize the opportunities currently sat empty.

Such little time

In the light of our climate emergency, it is imperative that we prioritise our existing buildings and make the reuse worthwhile. A more sustainable approach is needed, it requires us to reuse and recycle. By taking a new holistic approach we can mitigate environmental impacts, reduce waste, and reduce water pollution.

Historic buildings form a huge part of the UK's infrastructure, they provide an identity to each town and county, and actually have the potential to provide a sustainable future too.

These buildings not only have a cultural value but also a social one. Our historic buildings do not need to remain in the past, they can be reused, retrofitted, and rebuilt!

It will be impossible to meet our 2050 carbon emission target if we do not tackle the emissions of the construction industry.

We will simply not be able to meet our housing targets if we do not think creatively. We will not be able to meet our social responsibilities if we continue to destroy our heritage.

Such special buildings, such little time!

Kirsty Hammond is publisher and editor of Specifier Review