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If you were asked to characterise current issues and trends within property development and investment, what might you say?

You might suggest the continued reliance on permitted development to deliver housing land supply or the challenge of finding land in the face of planning restrictions. Others would cite the continued conversion of office floorspace to residential micro-units or the changing dynamics in the retail market.

The travails of retailers have been under the microscope of late with Toys R Us and Maplin going in to administration and F & B retailers facing challenges of their own. Evidence highlights the major lack of potential occupiers for larger format retail stores, which is not surprising given the rise of online retailers and the growing need for distribution facilities.

In the wake of a troubled retail sector, could these sites help to plug a shortfall of new land and present opportunities for good quality, mixed use development? If so, what lessons can be learnt from previous planning policy failings around change of use?

The failings of employment policy

Permitted development rights divide opinion and, in all likelihood, will have a questionable legacy. For developers, the legislation provides the opportunity to secure planning consent and build quickly, deliver smaller units to maximise GDVs and avoid providing affordable housing. For the Government and local authorities, it is a mechanism to provide housing quickly against a backdrop of a chronic housing shortage and unsatisfactory plans to deliver new homes.

If you cast your memory back to the days before permitted development, what did the relationship between employment floor space and residential look like? For example, take a poor quality, partly occupied 50,000 sq ft office building with a large car park and excellent transport connections.

What is the potential? In all probability, a residential-led scheme capable of delivering circa 100 residential units and 25,000 sq ft of new well-designed office space.

What was the reality? It is likely that this same eye sore has been converted under permitted development rights, the parking area retained as a justification to obtain the change of use, and 150 micro units all sold off to investors. A significant win for the owner of the property, but of little benefit to the local community.

It’s hard to dispute that planning authorities fail to recognise the potential of many employment sites and to implement pragmatic policy that will safeguard their future. Permitted development may have helped councils to deliver more new homes, but at what cost to the wider area and their economies?

The retail opportunity

 So, what can be learnt from these past failings? And can they be applied to the retail sector so that we can deliver vital housing alongside new retail formats?

Firstly, we should ensure that it is not about the conversion of existing retail properties to provide poor quality residential, but that we are creating good quality homes people want to live in, alongside retail and leisure.

Secondly, the re-planning of former retail sites should address market trends to help to revive local areas. Development plans should be carefully thought through and be shaped by the wider context of the local economy, amenities and housing provision. Many of these sites are well located, are by their very nature brownfield land and are often capable of accommodating significant density, particularly in London.

Lastly, consider the edge of centre sites or those located in secondary town centres where redevelopment may boost the local area. These sites could be transformed into the provision of new retail, linked to good quality residential that would enliven the town centre and drive footfall.

With a willingness among developers to take income for a few years and with the funds focussing on existing income with future angles for development, it is a competitive space. The uncertainty over the occupational market for these retail stores raises concerns for the owners, but might present an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.

Taking the initiative

There is now a real chance to deliver redevelopment with major public benefits, alongside a new retail offering on site, or an evolving retail policy linking land use to the new era of retail consumer requirements. Such an approach would be consistent with the Government’s stance on housing delivery and their recent announcement regarding proposals to reform the planning system.

We all know the planning system has its limitations, but with the stark reality of the lessons of the past sitting on every street corner, now is the time to grasp the initiative.

Notes to editor

Andrew joined Allsop from Savills and has enjoyed a 13 year prestigious and successful career in residential development. Having worked for a number of years obtaining residential led planning consents, he has developed a wealth of development expertise and wide ranging knowledge of the market. Andrew commenced his career working for a Local Authority and has extensive experience of advising on estate regeneration and land assembly proposals.

Andrew is the Head of the Residential Development team and part of Allsop’s Build to Rent team. He advises on joint ventures, forward funding arrangements and land deals, many of which are on behalf of public sector or private landowners clients.


If you would like to get in touch with Andrew, please contact him: or +44 (0)20 7344  2609