Drive through the centre of Bristol and you can’t miss a tatty old office block completed in 1972 for the now defunct Avon County Council. Towering into the sky, this brutal piece of architecture continues to blight the city’s skyline 17 years after the authority was abolished.
But having been converted into a Premier Inn in 1999, it looks like the building will remain an eyesore for many years to come.
Like many office blocks in the city, and indeed the rest of the country, it should have been pulled down rather than spending vast sums on interiors (but very little on the outside) that has prolonged its life. There’s an equally tatty building near Euston station in London that has been converted into a Premier Inn.
Yet Premier Inn isn’t the only culprit here.
If the government had its way, many more tatty office blocks would escape the bulldozer. Proposals were announced in January to allow developers to converted empty offices into homes without getting planning permission. The move was designed to cut the costs of creating affordable homes and regenerate run down areas.
Thankfully in London however nearly all 33 councils have sought either an entire or partial exemption from the policy, according to new research by property consultants CBRE. Authorities, like Croydon, made their case on the grounds proposals “would create uncertainty regarding building and development values” and “could actually cause a slowing in market activity and investment.”
For me here, aside from the economic factors, we need to do everything we can to stop slums in the sky from being built. Mistakes were made in the 1970s when residential tower blocks were built in large numbers and established communities were broken up.
Those monstrosities that became a byword from crime and misery are now being pulled down. So why make that mistake again and move people on mass into ageing structures that may not have the local amenities that residents need to lead a quality life?
Creating homes for people is so much more than just finding shells of buildings and dosing them with a few coats of paint, so families can be rushed in. Planning professionals put a great deal of time and effort these days into considering what developments will mean for local areas. Where will children go to school? Where will families shop? How will they get to school?
Yes, it sounds an attractive proposition to create 130,000 new flats in empty offices (which the government says their plan would develop), but this is nothing less planning on the cheap.
Building more affordable homes is considerably more attractive, so instead of prolonging the life of ageing structures, why not simply speed up and cheapen the planning process for all brand new properties? That would give families the quality homes they deserve, while ensuring eyesore office blocks don’t ruin our cities for years to come.