Living in flats

Living in flats

It is now easier to convert offices and shops into flats.

The Government has no strategy or framework for this – but it has relaxed planning regulations so that developers have no need to apply for planning permission after 1st August. Some changes of use to residential had already taken place under Permitted Development Rights – up to 65,000 new homes in the last five years created in disused office spaces.

Some Local Authorities have been reluctant to allow conversions of buildings which can provide employment, and some have insisted on private car parking provision, which can be difficult in city centres.

Developers prefer to build on greenfield sites which are easier and more profitable for them and put pressure on Governments to allow developments on green belt land.

Now insurer Zurich UK has entered the discussion arguing that conversions are “at increased risk of serious overheating” and are “vulnerable to climate change”. This comes at a time when arguments are being made for improved insolation of properties to reduce electricity use.

The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors has suggested that balconies should be provided when buildings are converted. Zurich also warned of possible drainage issues

Zurich also cites the Climate Change Committee report that one in five homes in the UK can overheat during heat waves.

The Government has responded, pointing out that Building Control regulations will still apply, and these require sufficient ventilation.

How many people are living in flats?

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Less than one quarter of UK residents are living in flats, although the number has increased since the turn of the century. Only London has a majority of people living in flats, many in converted housing, much of which is more problematic than possible office conversions.

I’m not aware of any professional objections or ongoing problems in former factory buildings that were converted to flats in many towns and cities from the 1980’s onwards.

The World Economic Forum reports  that almost half of the population of the EU live in flats including around two thirds in Spain and Latvia. Only Ireland has a smaller proportion than the UK.

The issues for people living in flats are not new, or unique to Britain.

Many of the residents of ancient Rome lived in blocks of flats up to ten storeys high. I took the photo (above) of blocks in the old city of Sana’a,Yemen, before the current conflict started. Many of these are well over 1000 years old. So problems associated with living in flats in hot countries should be well known by now.

Most of the population of Cairo live in flats, as is the case of many cities around the world, including some of the hottest. In Singapore around 80% of the population choose to live in the subsidised high rise blocks.

There may be lessons to learn from other countries, but the conversion of offices and shops that are surplus to requirements should not pose insurmountable problems.

The scale of the climate emergency has recently been highlighted by a UN report. Many interests will use climate change to push for what they want regardless of climate change.