The Scottish Government is being urged to ease restrictions on converting commercial properties into housing.
Following the publication of its most recent commercial market survey – covering the second quarter of this year – the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics), said converting offices and retail spaces into housing could use up buildings emptied by the coronavirus pandemic while catering for the demand for affordable housing.
Hew Edgar, head of government relations at Rics, said a trial of conversions is being carried by the UK Government, but concerns have been raised about substandard homes.
In Scotland, he said, regulations are already more strict and would lead to better quality housing being created, if regulations on the planning process are eased.
Mr Edgar said: “The reduction in demand for office space in some locations in Scotland could be used to counter demand for housing.
“One route – trialled by the UK Government – is through permitted development rights (PDRs), which can increase the delivery of new housing by reducing regulatory burdens.
“The recent loosening of PDRs, however, is not right and have raised concerns around substandard homes, including building and space standards, all of which were highlighted in a 2018 Rics report. Regulatory safeguards will be needed to ensure quality is not bypassed.
“Scotland’s PDR regime is more stringent, so as an alternative it should be made easier to deliver viable office-to-residential schemes through the planning permission process.
“This would maximise the existing asset base in a sustainable way, providing affordable homes in close proximity to pre-existing facilities while contributing towards community and wellbeing.”
According to the market survey, a net balance of -66% of Scottish respondents said demand had fallen for commercial properties, including -92% for retail spaces and -82% for office space.
In the coming three months, -93% of participants in the survey have said they expect rents to decline.
In the UK-wide survey, 93% of those asked said they expect businesses to scale back their office needs in the next two years, due to the amount of work undertaken remotely as a result of the pandemic.
The Scottish Government’s Minister for Housing and Planning Kevin Stewart said: “Research published by UK Government on the extension of permitted development rights in England to allow conversion of commercial buildings to residential use has highlighted increasing concern about the impacts of these extended permitted development rights, which can create worse quality residential environments, which could be detrimental to the health, wellbeing and quality of life of future occupiers.
“We do not propose to introduce similar permitted development rights in Scotland.
“The need to target support for town centres as part of Scotland’s economic recovery from the pandemic is clear.
“The recently established Town Centre Action Plan review group will include consideration of the role of planning.
“Rics are being consulted as part of the review along with a range of other business, property, place, planning and architectural bodies.”