Marks and Spencer have announced plans to repurpose their Marble Arch store, redeveloping it as a smaller retail space, with offices above. Oversupply of retail space is not a new issue, with estimates of an excess of around 40%. Despite the restrictions on the use of physical stores, forcing more consumers online, predictions are that by the end of 2021, online retail will count for only c.25% of the retail market. Far from being redundant bricks and mortar retail will continue to have a key role to play and the property industry is looking at how that can be achieved in a sustainable way. Like M&S, many of our clients are seeking to repurpose their excess or void retail space, curating hybrid hubs with occupiers for various sectors all within one location; retail, offices, education, leisure, residential, medical, bio-tech and community. The aim of this is to ensure that assets are more sustainable and to secure growth and long-term income from diverse sources.

We are advising both owner and occupier clients on what changes we have seen in new lettings and lease regears. We are also helping clients to use the existing prior approval permitted development right that allows change of use from office to residential, without the need for planning permission (subject to certain considerations), as well as how looking at how they could move between any of the uses under the new Use Class E (except where restricted by an existing planning condition). Use Class E covers retail, restaurants, banks, gyms, medical centres, nurseries and light industrial and is presenting owners and occupiers with real opportunities to repurpose redundant space. The government is currently considering the responses to its consultation on whether there should be a new permitted development right for the whole of Class E to be able to be converted to residential; we are watching this with interest.