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Offices to homes
Over the last week there has been much publicity with regard to the housing shortage in the West Midlands and judging by the volume of rented accommodation that Doolittle & Dalley have let so far this year, the demand for rented accommodation seems to be unprecedented. With reports that house prices are equivalent to nine times average earnings, then it is not surprising that many people who years ago would have been purchasing their own property are now having to rent rather than buy.
In Kidderminster town centre particularly within Worcester Street and Oxford Street, there are thousands of square feet of empty office accommodation of first and second floors of buildings, for which there is virtually no demand. This space lends itself ideally for conversion to living accommodation and which if converted would add significantly to the housing stock within the area. Not only this, but it would also help breathe new life into the town centre. The ‘Big Society’ and new planning legislation is intended to allow local communities to create situations where local people have more say in the way in which property is developed so long as this does not spoil the character and create infrastructure problems in local areas. Although much of the bureaucracy is intended to be removed, there is still more to be done. Relaxation in planning is essential for such areas in town centres to be brought back into use and the office space I referred to earlier is a prime example. Rejuvenation and conservation officers appear keen locally to see Kidderminster Town Centre brought back to life, however old policies with regard to the provision of car parking accommodation is still hampering some proposed conversion schemes, intended to provide accommodation for single people. Many of such applicants are not financially able to afford a car, therefore if part of the planning process involves provision of car parking space then this is ludicrous, given the type of accommodation to be provided.
Until sense prevails then much of this empty office space will remain unoccupied and common sense needs to prevail when planning applications are submitted for rejuvenation schemes. The provision of living accommodation within Town Centres not only brings empty space back into use, but also creates a demand for town centre shops again resulting in empty shop properties becoming occupied.
It is quite clear that times must change such that where there is little or no demand for certain types of property then alternative uses particularly residential use should be considered.