Climate change ‘could make UK’s office-to-flat conversions uninhabitable’

Repurposing commercial buildings could create swathes of homes that are unfit for living in future climate conditions, according to a new report

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Climate change could pose a critical risk to the UK’s office-to-home conversions.

A new analysis by the insurer Zurich UK predicts that redeveloping shops and offices left empty by the pandemic could create a ‘swathe of substandard homes’ that are vulnerable to climate change.

The authors of the report suggest new flats in disused commercial spaces could become uninhabitable because of increasing temperatures and heatwaves.

Zurich UK notes office-to-flat conversions are at increased risk of serious overheating due to poor design, including a lack of appropriate ventilation and shading.

The data shows an estimated 64,700 flats have been built in the last five years in spaces originally occupied by offices, with the latest quarterly figures showing conversion applications are up 28%.

This trend is supported by current working patterns that allow staff to work from home, leaving many offices empty and obsolete spaces.

Under new permitted development rights (PDR), developers can convert not only empty offices but also commercial premises such as vacant shops, restaurants and gyms into housing.

Paul Redington, Zurich’s Major Loss Property Claims Manager, said: “Overheating in new and existing homes is emerging as a potentially deadly risk.

“Poor plumbing is also a serious issue that causes major disruption for residents. In the drive to revitalise our town centres, we must ensure that we do not create swathes of homes that are unfit for living and future climate conditions.”

Eddie Tuttle, Director for Policy, Research & Public Affairs at the Chartered Institute of Building, said: “While we agree with the principle of PDRs to create more flexibility in buildings, rejuvenate town centres and deliver more housing in the right locations, there is clear evidence that homes built using PDRs has led to spaces detrimental to the health, wellbeing, and quality of life of future occupants.”

A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesperson said: “These claims are based on unfounded assumptions.

“Our reforms will transform unused buildings into much-needed new homes and all new homes must be of high quality and meet national space standards and building regulations, including ventilation requirements.”