Developers Catton Homes have announced that Essex House, a two-storey office building situated at 86-92, Victoria Street, is set to be converted for residential use. The property is to be re-configured into five apartments and a 3-bedroom townhouse by Catton Homes, with the homes due to be on the market in early 2019. The properties will have their own parking spaces, with access provided off Alexandra Road.
In May 2013 the Government brought in changes to the planning laws in England which made it much easier to convert commercial buildings for residential use. When the national housing shortage was combined with depressed office rents and an excess of empty office buildings it was an obvious “quick fix” to allow the conversion of surplus offices into apartments, particularly in town and city centres where available building land was at a premium.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing but it’s easy to see what this would mean for property hotspots such as St Albans. With residential properties having a greater value locally than offices a large number of local commercial buildings were quickly ear-marked for development. We have already seen Ziggurat House on Grosvenor Road and Saxon House on Upper Marlborough Street, among others converted into flats. Other sites such as Abbot House in Everard Close and the former Police Station on Victoria Street have also seen plans submitted for redevelopment.
Predictably this rush to convert office space has resulted in a shortage of suitable office premises in and around St Albans city centre, pushing businesses to industrial estates on the outskirts of the city or forcing some to move out altogether. Apart from the effect the absence of office workers may have on High Street businesses the planning policy changes may also cause problems elsewhere – school places, medical services, and traffic congestion for example. And from October, 2017, changes in the law also allow light industrial buildings to be converted to housing. Good news for the developers maybe, but adding more pressure to the infrastructure of the city and surroundings.
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