Office workers; the saviour of the town centre?

25th June 2021 Real Estate Commercial

The way we work has undoubtedly changed in the last 18 months and it looks set to continue to do so, even after the Coronavirus restrictions are lifted. But for many, the office offers more than just a place to work. It's a place to meet friends, to sound out ideas and to learn.

While many companies have made the decision to reduce their office space, some, like JMW, have actually increased their office space during the pandemic. There is a potential for even more demand in the future as companies change their office offering to cater to their employees' needs, including a desire to retain social distancing measures for the foreseeable future.

Anecdotally, members of the JMW Real Estate Zoom report that demand for office space is increasing, making up around 50% of current enquiries. Recent reports from think tank Centre for Cities about a likely return to the 5-day office week when Covid restrictions eventually do lift may also fuel this demand.

Demand and Supply – Vacant Retail Space

The solution to an increased demand in new office space, at least in the medium term, may be met by some of the iconic buildings left empty the collapse of high Street giants such as Debenhams and House of Fraser. The Guardian reported in March that more than 17,500 chain store outlets disappeared from high streets, shopping centres and retail parks across the country during the pandemic. This space could well be converted into office space, or a mix of office, co-living and dining, to facilitate a return to office working and so revitalise beleaguered city centres.

New Planning Environment

Changes to planning regulations announced in the last year could help to ease the transition between retail and office space.

The amalgamation of retail, office and other commercial uses into a single use class, Class E, will mean that no planning permission will be required in most cases for change between such uses.

Manchester’s Iconic Buildings

Some of Manchester’s most iconic large retail spaces, Kendals, home to House of Fraser, and the Debenhams building, are set to be converted into office space. While both of these buildings are listed and development requires a more in depth planning process, the decision to convert to office space reportedly seen as the ‘most sustainable long-term use of the building’ may be followed by others.

The Office’s Economic Benefit

Office workers also bring huge economic benefits to the wider environment. Between lost lunches, coffees and after-work drinks, one study in August 2020 claimed that continuing to work from home could cost the economy £480 billion.

While town centres have been shockingly quiet since 24 March 2020, perhaps enticing office workers back into town by newly converted retail space will breathe fresh life into our city centres.

Offices are part of what has created the UK's biggest urban hubs, and the conversion of retail space, may help to change and resuscitate the suffering high street.

If you require any assistance on legal matters concerning offices, please contact us.

The JMW Real Estate Zoom is a weekly round table involving a range of professionals from all sectors of real estate. If you would like further information, or to attend future Real Estate Zooms, hosted by JMW Solicitors, please contact  Thomas Pearson   

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Hannah Smith is a Solicitor located in Londonin our Real Estate Commercial department

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