Conversions, a popular property option for private landlords, may become more prevalent if two groups of MPs have their wishes granted. These cross-party groups are urging the government to take action in repurposing vacant buildings into affordable homes to address the housing and homelessness crisis. In their joint inquiry report, the All-Party Parliamentary Groups for Housing Market and Delivery and for Ending Homelessness emphasize the potential for increased housing supply through this approach, provided there are adequate safeguards to ensure high-quality and genuinely affordable homes.
During their investigation, MPs were informed that solely from vacant local authority buildings, there exists an opportunity to generate an additional 20,000 homes in England. This figure excludes the potential for conversions from privately owned empty commercial properties.
Currently, approximately 14% of retail unit space and 7% of office space remain unoccupied.
The MPs conducted a thorough review of evidence provided by housing and homelessness organizations, local government, planning experts, and developers. Witnesses unanimously highlighted three key areas that necessitate government intervention to ensure successful conversions and prevent the repetition of poor-quality developments observed in the past.
The first area is the need for enhanced standards. In addition to other recommendations, the groups are urging the government to enforce the ‘Healthy Homes Principles’ to guarantee the provision of high-quality homes. These principles encompass various standards applicable to all new housing, including conversions. They encompass access to amenities such as shops, schools, healthcare facilities, green spaces, and transportation, as well as fire safety measures, natural light availability, and adequate warmth and ventilation to combat issues like dampness and mold.
Furthermore, the two Parliamentary groups advocate for mandatory contributions towards genuinely affordable housing as part of all conversions, aiming to address local needs and combat homelessness. Although the government has expressed its intention to implement this through the Levelling Up Bill, the MPs emphasize the importance of expediting these measures to achieve immediate benefits.
Additionally, the groups urge the provision of clearer guidance to empower local authorities to exert greater influence over the types of conversions permitted in their respective areas. This ensures alignment with local housing and economic development plans.
Ben Everitt, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Housing Market and Delivery, states, “We aimed to explore short-term solutions for housing supply and hope that our practical and pragmatic recommendations are embraced by the government. This includes the publication of data on the number of commercial properties vacant for over two years and the requirement for local authorities to report on vacant buildings in their jurisdictions. Such actions would provide a comprehensive overview of the potential scale of converting these empty commercial properties into desperately needed affordable housing.”
Florence Eshalomi, co-chair of the APPG for Ending Homelessness, emphasises the importance of collaboration in successful conversions. She highlights the involvement of local authorities, housing associations, and socially-minded organizations as crucial for effective outcomes.
To enable non-profit and community-led organizations to capitalize on the opportunity of converting empty commercial properties into residential use, both APPGs endorse incentivizing high-quality standards and promoting consortia approaches.
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