Southampton needs homes but it needs work places too

By Aiden Murray, planning consultant in JLL’s Southampton office

April 24, 2019

Article - The Government announced this month (April 2019) that it will review its divisive and controversial policy of allowing commercial offices to be converted into residential properties without the need for planning permission.

Known as ‘Permitted Development Rights’ the manoeuvre launched back in 2013 to address the on-going housing crisis has resulted in a detrimental effect on Southampton office stock. A number of Southampton office buildings, including Brunswick Place, Orchard House and more recently Compass House have all been converted to flats under Permitted Development Rights.

It is only too easy to blame the rise of online shopping for the recent change in High Street fortune, but we should consider too the impact on retailers of converting work places to homes. The loss of high quality office space has resulted in a decline in workspace in our towns and cities, and as such a serious decline of vibrancy and spending in our urban areas.  

With this in mind, the Government is now reviewing these policies. But only last month the Minister for Housing and Local Government announced a new permitted development right to allow certain shops and high street premises to be converted into offices without the need for planning permission, set to come in in the spring.  

While the technical details of these changes have not yet been released, it seems the Government is now assessing the wider impact of its policy, and is hopeful that allowing shops to turn into offices will help return viability and vitality to our town centres.

All being well, this change may be positive and should suit the rise of smaller co-working spaces such as those we have seen recently opening in Southampton, like Coffee Lab at Bargate or the Network Space in Marlands.

However, any firms with a large workforce or specific requirements are being forced to search wider than Southampton city centre because of the lack of grade A offices in the market. The demand for flexible, temporary workspace remains and the recent trend for highly adaptable office space, often on flexible terms is set to continue.

Alternative, out of town locations can be less sustainable, particularly if they involve an increased reliance on the private car. They also risk taking away footfall from the city centre. Businesses are continuing to work to improve their carbon footprints, increase sustainability and air quality and really connect with the places they are in. Rather than reviewing the controversial Permitted Development Right policy, is now the time for the Government to do away with it altogether before we risk losing the last remaining office stock from our city centres?

This would allow us to actively encourage more purpose-built office space close to public transport hubs and the shopping and leisure facilities we all value.

About JLL

JLL (NYSE: JLL) is a leading professional services firm that specializes in real estate and investment management. Our vision is to reimagine the world of real estate, creating rewarding opportunities and amazing spaces where people can achieve their ambitions. In doing so, we will build a better tomorrow for our clients, our people and our communities. JLL is a Fortune 500 company with annual revenue of $16.3 billion, operations in over 80 countries and a global workforce of over 90,000 as of December 31, 2018. JLL is the brand name, and a registered trademark, of Jones Lang LaSalle Incorporated. For further information, visit