Why Warehouses Should Stay Commercial

Warehouse developments are big business in London and developers are becoming innovative regarding their conversion.


The growing housing deficit that London has been experiencing has led to property developers becoming increasingly innovative when it comes to meeting the need for homes. Recently, developers have turned their attention to the use of commercial buildings, in particular basement offices and warehouses. Warehouse developments have started to become big business, with housing plans UK-wide bringing vacant commercial premises into their designs. But why the trend?

The warehouse conversion trend

Warehouse conversions date back to the 1980s when abandoned premises were ear-marked for conversion in New York’s Meatpacking District. With commercial buildings falling into disuse, higher rates of crime and increased poverty resulted. All this changed when developers realised the opportunity of converting the large open warehouse spaces into residential property and social venues, so satisfying requirements for a more effective use of space in a crowded city.

This New York mindset gradually travelled to London, where large neglected commercial buildings became targets for residential property developers.

The numbers prove the trend. A Savills report indicates that three quarters of commercial landlords are thinking about repurposing their assets, with 85 per cent considering redevelopment into residential flats. On the face of it, old, open-plan buildings appear to offer opportunities to develop spacious flats that hold on to historic features. There is also huge development potential for affordable housing in large commercial buildings. And with a relaxation of planning regulations, it is no wonder there has been a boom in commercial conversions.

Relaxed planning restrictions fuelling the movement

In 2012, the government reviewed planning restrictions on the conversion of commercial buildings, prompting landlords to convert properties for residential use. Since the planning permissions process became easier and the fact that warehouses tend to be centrally located, many developers have taken advantage of the opportunity.

Indeed, the UK-wide housing crisis is a stark reality with about 300,000 new homes in demand every year according to government statistics, the answer would appear to be staring developers in the face – courtesy of hundreds of thousands of square feet of unused commercial space ripe for conversion. However, there is a very serious side to the whole concept: the issue of occupant health.

The health risks of living in a converted warehouse 

Some modern warehouse conversions may be chic and ultra-modern, but in many cases, most of the individual units have no windows at all, or at very least have high level windows offering no views of the outside world. This means that tenants will be living with little or no natural light.

When you think about it, warehouses are designed solely for commercial purposes i.e. for storing goods. There is no requirement for natural light flow and in many cases windows would pose more of a risk e.g. allowing prying eyes to view what’s inside or sunlight to affect shelf-life, than a benefit.

Living without natural light has many serious health implications. The government’s own housing health rating system, which determines housing officer standards, warns that a lack of natural light poses a risk to both mental and physical health. Inadequate exposure to sunlight can also result in a lack of vitamin D, vital for bone health and general disease resistance. A view to the outside world is vital in order to prevent feelings of isolation and depression.

It may seem strange that planning law allows residential dwellings that can pose a risk to health. But because the conversions from commercial to residential property are not subject to the usual planning approval channels and instead are fast-tracked under the new reforms allowing the use of permitted development rights, there is no intervention.

Hugh Ellis, head of policy at the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA), says: “Dwellings of any kind without natural light should not be allowed under any circumstances.”

Ellis warns that the ‘slums of tomorrow’ are currently being built. “All sorts of unsuitable buildings including basements are being converted into housing right now,” he says. “Developers are trying to cram people into small, dark places, which is symptomatic of a much wider failure to provide the kind of decent housing that we need.”

In the London Borough of Haringey, a commercial to residential conversion has been thrown out of planning. The development, described as a ‘human warehouse’ due to the exceptionally small floor sizes, was submitted under the permitted development rules, which usually allow schemes to bypass the majority of planning regulations.

The scheme received as many as 84 planning objections relating not only to the size of the units, but also to mental health and sanitation concerned with overcrowding. Due to the permitted development rules though, those reasons could not be taken into consideration. Instead, the council cited a ‘lack of information in respect of potential contamination, transport and noise impacts’.

Find a warehouse to rent in London with help from DohertyBaines

There is only one thing a warehouse is designed for, and that is pure commercial usage.

DohertyBaines offers specialist expertise in all aspects of commercial warehousing for rent or for sale in London and the Home Counties.

If you are looking for a warehouse to rent in London, you are invited to contact our dedicated team on 020 7355 3033 for the individual advice and expert guidance you need to locate the perfect premises to suit your operational goals.

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