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Could Co-working Fill the Retail Gap?

22nd January 2021

Recent changes to the planning use class system could be used to supplement town centres with new co-working spaces in place of vacant retail premises.

The recent article, shared by property firm Savills, highlights where flexible office space could be a viable option to fill vacant retail units in towns and cities across the UK, providing professional environments for freelancers and smaller teams. Alternatively, they may simply be utilised by individuals seeking a dedicated workspace away from the distractions at home.

In previous years, this would not have been possible without planning consent to change the use class of the property to B1 office space. However, from September 2020, retail and office use became identifiable under a single class, E – commercial, business and service use. Under the new regulations, a change of use from retail to office, or co-working space, is classified as permitted development.

As a result of this change, many co-working providers may seek to fulfill the requirement for office space in regional towns, where some property professionals believe there will also be an increased demand from businesses utilising a “hub & spoke” model of multiple offices closer to the homes of their employees.

Savills highlight the town of Stockport, which has been oversupplied with retail and undersupplied with office space for years. Developers are therefore in the process of implementing a new flexible office scheme across the large floorplate of a former Marks and Spencer department store, which has stood vacant since 2018.

Despite this insight arriving in the same week as the flexible space giant, IWG, reported that they would be doubling the amount of site closures to try to prevent further losses, it seems that this opportunity may hold more appeal for regional, rather than multi-national, co-working and flexible space operators.

Whilst this may be good news for town centres hoping to increase footfall after the pandemic, could this be yet another issue set to challenge the future of high street retail in the UK?

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