Retail units into homes. That's the latest cry. The Week has got in before the minister with its SELL THEM ALL! message. They say the government has given up on the high street. It won't even look at any of the hard bits of their own trumpeted Portas review. Business rates being the most obvious solution to the problem. Instead it went for the easy and almost useless parts. Fancy dress themed days. Street theatre and papering over empty units with colourful images of busy shoppers like some Potemkin village.
But how easy would it be to convert the High Street to domestic use?
Lets have a look.
This examples is from Bromley high street which is a busy, built up, long established typical metropolitan south London/suburb high street and shopping centre area found in most 15,000+ population towns in the UK. Actually Bromley is much better than most. It has a million+ people catchment. Dudley could only hope for a tenth of that. All images picked at random from google.
Lease for sale.
You can see the flats above. Curtains are a dead give away. Retail stockrooms don't have curtains. Or windows that can open without bars on them. Internal theft being what it is. This is for sale as a going concern. But lets assume it isn't and was an empty.
Easy to convert. Brick frontage same as above. The window symmetry is going to be hard. Might just be able if the door was the other side. But that's an architect's problem.
The upstairs is two flats already let to students as the uni is across the road. And making it into a student flat would be the best move. No garden and no views. Just a brick yard.
Its not very large, but bigger than many flats in this area. Maybe 800sq ft? The listing doesn't say.
Lack of parking is a problem. Current UK planning laws require appx - 1.75 car parking spaces per bedroom. At least 2 spaces required here. + turning and motorcycle and cycle spaces. Not insurmountable by any means. That massive high street pavement won't be needed if no one is walking on it. Two cars could easily park nose to the glass there. Or 1 space and a small front garden, as with a more traditional terrace.
A similar property. Hayes this time. Similar high street. Two flats above. One 1,000 ft lower unit for conversion. Same problems. Garden and parking and views. Would make nice terrace houses if all the units were converted. But few would buy a 5/6 bed £750,000 town house with a 10ft garden and only on street parking.
So flats it is. At least the gas will already be connected. Very few retail units without cooking/catering have gas. No need.
Three small offices above the shops. Two person offices. Another typical high street set up.
Converting the retail to offices would be very easy. Or a garage for two cars and a utility/ storage room? Trouble is it would cost you around £300,000 to have off street parking.
Retail to office is already happening on high streets, in a reversal of the last two decades trend. Shops becoming offices. One reason is there are a lot of empty retail units and rents can be as low as a minus figure. The tenant pays no rent but pays the rather hefty rates and service charges bills. In villages an office in a former shop is even more attractive as the rent and rates are low already. Just blind over the large glass windows.
Another reason is that once the planning consent for A1/A2 retail to B1/B2 business has been approved there is no further planning approval requirement for B use to residential.
The real problem seems to be cost. All of these shops are expensive to buy. The majority are currently lease anyway. To buy the cheque centre in the middle picture which is freehold is £250,000 + taxes. Then there is the fit out. How much to fit all the partition walls. Kitchen. Bathroom. Flooring. Plumbing. Gas. Complete new brick frontage and windows to rear. Garden. Parking. Chances of there being any heating is remote. The project is same as a total derelict refurb.
So once the money is spent there is a the least desirable of flats a ground floor one. With no or minimal garden and views of not anything much. And, as with many high streets, this is on a very busy main road.
It can be done. But unless the prices come down, which they may well do if the recession never ends and the internet continues to take business, it seems the work involved and investment made may not see the best return.
Of course if you already own the premises then the proposition is much more attractive. Just the conversion costs and rent the flats. But cheque centre was/is paying £1400 a month. Looks to be about £500 pcm over the odds for an average two bed basic maisonette in Hayes. Quite a haircut. More a full number 1 clipper. And if everyone does it, rents fall.
The internet accounts for 1 in every £10 spent. Supermarkets for another 3 or 4 of the ten. Still leaves 50%+ of ALL shopping in the UK on the high street. High street not quite dead enough yet for the economies to work. Better and cheaper by far for the landlord to just lower cheque centres rent by £250 a month.