Sunday, 17 March 2013
Location, Location, Location
Sunday 17th March
About six years ago, when the property market was still in full swing, I looked at buying a development site in Camberley High St.
The unusual thing about this site was that it was actually an office block at the time, located above the bed shop opposite the old Allders building. Seemingly, the owner had decided that the office yields were no longer an attractive investment and had decided - at a great deal of expense and time - to change the consent of the building from offices to residential.
Sadly - or perhaps fortunately for us - we were outbid on the deal. But the successful developer continued with the project and latterly completed the sale of his last remaining unit.
At the time I considered the idea to be a superb commercial prospect for the business and also for the town centre. At no cost to them, the Borough would have a shiny new (converted) building on the High St, thirty more 'windfall' units to place into their housing numbers and sixty or so new council taxpayers on the doorstep. Merchants would benefit also, in both the daytime and evening economies. What wasn't there to like? And so, I cast around for other such potential developments at the same time as looking at the planning file for clues about how I might go about it.
That's where my designs became somewhat stillborn.
Because the fight that the building owner had on his hands in order to change the consent was ridiculous. And all the while these long drawn out negotiations, discussions and even applications were taking place, supported no doubt by a team of professionals on an hourly rate, the owner had also not derived any income from the empty office. Who else I wondered, as I looked at the acres of empty office space across the county, would have the purse to cope with that.
(Believe it or not, this continued delaying and red-tape represents much of the current planning system in the UK, a situation the CBI continues to deride, and for good reason)
So I'm delighted to see this latest Eric Pickles property rumour come to light. Effectively, the Communities Secretary has outlined plans for such schemes to be able to take place under the auspices of 'permitted development'.
The location of a lot of this empty property is exactly where these areas require regeneration and vibrancy. Bagshot, which shows few signs of letting is current stock of 100,000 sq ft of available office space, could be transformed under such plans. Camberley similarly so. Naturally, the Borough would have to declare NOT elect to opt-out of such a scheme. And property owners would have to consider the merits of scrapping long-held, but poorly performing office investments.
Its a big idea. Its a great idea.
I wonder who'll blink first.
Thanks to the Camberley Society et al for their recent Twitter discussion about this subject, which reminded me to blog it!