Actions to alleviate the blight of empty commercial properties in towns
According to the records for Guildford Borough Council – Business Rates information, as at 1 April 2013 there were over 385 vacant commercial and retail properties in the Guildford Borough. Empty buildings can be unsightly to the local community and costly for landowners. According to Danielle Collett-Bruce from Guildford law firm Hart Brown, there are several ways in which this growing problem of empty occupancy could be alleviated in towns such as Guildford.
One solution to this could be for such properties to be occupied and used on a temporary basis. Art exhibitions, fashion shows and even “experience days” (a disused shopping centre in Reading currently gives participants the chance to be chased by zombies) are some of the ways vacant buildings are being utilised pending development. This solution seems to be a win-win, with the landlord profiting from an additional income, the local community benefiting from short term jobs and the businesses in occupation gaining from lower rents, all of which could act as an enhancer for future development in the area.
A recent change in the law was designed to alleviate the problem of vacant commercial properties, by giving greater flexibility as to the use of existing premises. From 31 May 2013 the permitted development regime was amended, allowing greater flexibility for businesses to make the best use of their existing premises than is currently permitted by the planning permission they have in place.
The change in the permitted development rights is available to premises currently being used as restaurants, retail units, financial services, restaurants and cafes, offices, hotels, leisure facilities and light industrial and storage units. The change will allow premises operating as one of these types of facility to be used as another one of these services on a temporary basis.
The changes to the temporary use are subject to time limitations (being a 2 year period) and are only available to premises with a maximum floor area of 150 square meters.
Should the owners of premises that do not fall into the above categories wish to temporarily change that use, then the existing process for applying for temporary use will still apply.
Landlords should bear in mind that the Local Planning Authorities can take enforcement action if development occurs without the requisite permission.
Danielle Collett-Bruce is a trainee solicitor and has worked with Hart Brown since 2010. Having completed her first seat in the Commercial Business department, Danielle has just commenced her second seat in the Commercial Property department.
Hart Brown, a leading law firm with offices throughout Surrey and in London, has been offering a full range of legal and financial investment services to businesses and individuals for the past 90 years. With 15 partners, more than 110 staff, six offices and a reputation for delivering high quality service, Hart Brown is committed to building long-term relationships with its clients.
In particular, the firm puts great emphasis on regular communication with clients, as well as the need for efficiency and value for money in order to deliver a high-quality service. Hart Brown currently operates from offices located in Cobham, Cranleigh, Godalming, Guildford, Wimbledon Village and Woking. For more information please visit www.hartbrown.co.uk