Trials, tribulations and a new world of opportunity
In January this year I secured full planning permission for Conegate to redevelop a large site in Kingston for residential led mixed use development.
The scheme included a residents’ work-hub, this being a fitted out office space at ground floor level which would be accessible to all future residents and would create opportunities for much improved working from home conditions. At the time I had some doubts around whether a) the world would (or indeed could) change so dramatically towards a home working arrangement such that this facility would be highly sought after; and b) whether people would actually use it rather than sitting at a desk in their house or flat.
In October last year, my wife and I had our second baby and of course the usual “nesting” occurred around this, including me being tasked with the job of redecorating our bedroom; after all who would allow a new baby to spend its first days, weeks and months sleeping in a room which was last decorated about 3 years ago? Floor boards were sanded and painted (genuinely the most horrendous DIY job I have yet encountered) and the walls were painted (peacock blue for those who are curious). The room was ready and I had my office set up in our spare bedroom. Fast forward to March this year, Harry had moved into the spare bedroom and lockdown hit. My desk moved into our bedroom and there it has remained since.
I very much enjoy working among the peacock blue walls and brilliant white floorboards, but the bedroom isn’t quite the oasis of calm my wife had hoped for. However, having me around to help with the kids certainly has its benefits and I can’t help but enjoy the occasional video or conference call being interrupted by my eldest son charging around dressed as Batman or Spiderman (or occasionally Elsa)! However, there are times where I do wish that I had a residents’ work-hub; somewhere I could go which is close to home and could shut myself away and work without the threat of fun but somewhat disruptive interruptions to my thought process. It would also be nice for my bedroom to become a bedroom once more rather than the current hybrid sleep / work space (cue the inevitable wise-crack).
I know what you are thinking – “what has this got to do with planning?” Everything. We find ourselves in a world which has been turned upside down. As I gaze into my crystal ball, I find myself wondering if we will want to get back to the way things were less than a year ago. Will the vast (largely empty) office spaces in London and other town and city centres ever be filled as they were before? Or, as I suspect, will businesses seize the opportunity and adapt to this new environment, adopting an operating model which involves a far greater emphasis on remote working with the associated benefit of being able to downsize and significantly reduce overhead costs?
My colleague wrote an outstandingly insightful article last week, which grappled with the changes to the Use Classes Order and the impact this will have on our town centres. Her conclusion (one which I share) is that our town and city centres will evolve quite quickly into vibrant social and employment spaces with opportunities for the expansion and evolution of the food and drink sector and new business models being able to grow in a way not previously possible given the unnecessary and archaic controls of the 1987 version of the Use Classes Order. The Government’s foresight in respect of the flexibility of Class E is, to my mind, commendable as it will allow new businesses to emerge. I can anticipate something similar to a residents’ work-hub concept being expanded to a community workspace, or membership-based office workspace which allows members to reserve workspaces each day with integrated café/restaurant, bar and gym facilities (all of which would now be permissible within the bounds of the new Class E). If this does happen then I would be towards the front of the queue; I just hope they have a peacock blue colour scheme.