Jane Embury, director, responds to an announcement by the CIOB
The debate about the future of our towns and cities has finally started.
We have said for some time that parts of our built environment will have to be reconfigured to meet changing circumstances.
Simply, the future of office work no longer means having to work in an office. While many office workers will return to their desks, many will not, at least not on a full-time basis.
That poses strategic questions about the need for new office space, and what to do with redundant offices.
We recently highlighted the example of Gleeds, the property and construction consultancy. It says that it will cut back on the number of desks in its offices by as much as 40%.
The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) has warned about government plans to make it easier for commercial premises to be converted into homes.
Their letter to Prime Minister is jointly signed by the CIOB, the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), and Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).
They say that government plans are a risk to small businesses and town centres and fail “to consider the public good.”
That means rethinking the purpose of our town centres, and the kind of resilient communities we want to create for the future.
The CIOB letter follows a government announcement that planning permission will not be required to convert commercial buildings to residential use from August this year.
It does, however, come before responses to the Planning for the Future white paper. Or, indeed, before a consultation on the new regulations has been published.
The government, in a planning newsletter, has said that “the government’s objective [is] to support and diversify town centres.”
But the CIOB, and the other signatories say that the plans “present a risk for our nation’s town centres and small businesses.”
In certain circumstances, converting appropriate office buildings into homes makes sense. Rather than endlessly build ribbon developments at the edge of town, keep people in towns.
That can only benefit local shops and other retail outlets. It would also make good use of empty buildings that would otherwise remain empty.
But what we absolutely want to see is local debate and consultation because every town is different. Nor do we want to see architecture on the cheap.
That requires flexibility in planning law, and a commitment by local authorities to listen to every voice within a community.
What we want to avoid is a short-term rush to inappropriate regeneration projects that we may come to regret.
Instead, let’s build and rebuild for the future, but do it with cooperation and consultation.