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23 Apr 2021

Could redundant space be converted for life science use?

In the last year, COVID-19 has fuelled a significant interest in life science-related real estate. Clusters of life science-related real estate have developed within the London-Cambridge-Oxford triangle and also in Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle and Scotland.

Whilst there is an increase in demand for life science-related real estate, in contrast, some predict that there may be a contraction in demand for office space driven by a work-from-home culture. There has also been a reduction in interest by retailers for physical retail stores due to the increasing shift to online shopping.

Could redundant office and retail space near existing life science-related real estate hubs be converted for use by life science organisations?

Following a change in the planning use classes order in 2020, office use; use for retail sale of goods; and use for research and development of products or processes and industrial processes (which can be carried out in a residential area without detriment to its amenity) are now within the same use class. This means that no planning permission is required to switch between these uses.

Whilst that may be one hurdle cleared, building owners will need to consider the suitability of the building for such a conversion. Any alterations required to the building may necessitate a planning application or an application for listed buildings consent.

If the building owner has a long leasehold interest in the building, they will also need to consider whether the consent of the freeholder is required to the change the use and for the consequential works. Similarly, if the relevant building is charged, the building owner may also need to discuss the proposals with their lender.

The building owner will want to consider the obligations it has to its neighbours and to any of its nearby tenants. For example, if its tenants suffer from increased noise levels and vibrations, could they bring an action against the building owner?

Building owners who tackle these points could see a silver lining from the COVID-19 pandemic.

This article first appeared in Property Week on 23 April 2021.