City of London converts offices to houses

London skyline

As the UK moves steadily out of lockdown, businesses are reconsidering the long-term ongoing working arrangements of their employees. Many employers have found it a challenge to operate their business using workers at home, while others have realised that there can be significant benefits to both employee and business.

Many businesses have committed to allowing their workers to continue working from home, at least part of the time. However, others have already rejected the idea including such companies as investment bank, Goldman Sachs.

It is thought the pandemic may have brought forward a seismic shift in long-term working patterns and we’re left with a dilemma: what to do with all that empty office space?

Commercial property

The historic centre of London dates back to the Romans and there are plenty of listed buildings, including properties from the Victorian and Edwardian periods. However, the London bombings took their toll and many buildings were redeveloped during the 1960s. The scale of building in the City has become more and more ambitious and there are now over 20 tower blocks taller than 100 metres high including 22 Bishopsgate, which was completed in 2020 and the building stands at 278 metres tall over 62 floors.

The Square Mile still houses the headquarters of many global companies, dominated by banks, law firms and other institutions – even though some have moved to Canary Wharf, perhaps due to in part the planning policies of the Corporation.

The 1.12 sq mile area is looked after and promoted by the City of London Corporation and is home to many of the buildings that have been empty through the pandemic.

Residential property

Prior to Covid, the Square Mile attracted over half a million daily commuters and ten million annual visitors, but only around 8,000 people actually live in the area and around 30% of the housing stock are second homes.

Central London residential property rents have dropped considerably over the last year. Estate agent Foxtons estimates that the price of property rents in Zone one have reduced by over 20% and in some areas much more, such as in Marylebone at 30%-40%.

Letting agent, Carter Jonas, said that, previously, overseas residential tenants comprised 70% of the Marylebone market property but these have now been replaced by tenants moving in from cheaper London areas, in particular, those aged 25-34 years old.

The City of London Corporation now wants to convert many of its empty offices to achieve a target of building 1,500 more homes, through refurbishment and new building schemes. The Corporation’s target date is 2030 and its new draft ‘City Plan 2036‘ sets out the latest vision, including plans for housing.