Knight Frank: UK has reconfigured property to save lives

Jake Carter

April 2, 2020

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The UK has reconfigured property to save lives and demonstrated it is possible to swiftly create new temporary uses for real estate, according to Knight Frank.

Knight Frank points to the UK’s conversion of business centres, warehouses, hotels, sports stadiums and even the car park at Chessington World of Adventures, which have turned into temporary medical facilities to combat coronavirus.

Chris Benham, planning partner at Knight Frank, said that many of the changes we are facing as a nation are both immediate and will have long-lasting effects.

Benham believes that the mass closure of premises and spaces whether in public or private ownership, will result in many not re-opening.

He points to the loss of income, which he believes “will be too much for many organisations to bear”.

However, Benham said there are opportunities for landlords, as many can put their “vacant units to good use to support the government’s efforts to minimise the spread of coronavirus, and to assist with the economic recovery in due course”.

Benham continued: “In the short term, and in direct response to the pandemic, there are opportunities to seek the temporary change of use of under-utilised properties such as hotels, care homes and purpose-built student accommodation to medical facilities, significantly growing our capacity to treat people.

“These changes can be achieved through the submission of planning applications.

“There are also a range of Permitted Development Rights that enable either permanent or temporary changes of use of commercial properties which will be very useful to property owners in the longer term.”

Furthermore, Benham outlined that while planning permission would need to be granted for such a change of use, he believes authorities will not refuse on a temporary basis.

Although Benham noted that this depends on how urgent the change of use is, and whether it has the backing of the national and local government.

He believes that the rise of temporary use measures could have an influence on the planning system going forward, as the government prepares to consult on current practices and ways to enhance them.

Benham added: “In recent years the government has introduced a range of measures in an attempt to simplify and speed up the planning process, provide more flexibility to property owners, and increase housing supply and economic activity.

“The government is due to consult on a White Paper focused on planning reform in the coming months and we expect to see further measures introduced that will get us building again, and to kick start the economy.”

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