Which of today’s buildings have a shelf-life?.
As changes to global trade, manufacturing and technology have taken hold in recent decades, they’ve left behind a series of unwanted or unused buildings. Some, like old warehouses and mills, have been converted to office space and trendy urban apartments – a great example being Conditioning House in Bradford, once a vital building at the centre of the global wool industry.
Others, like theatres – whose task of entertaining the nation has largely been replaced by television and film – often sit empty and decaying, awaiting a new life… or the wrecking ball.
Today, the world is changing again, and modern technological advancements spell an end for other buildings – which could allow property investors to pick up a cheap property by identifying those properties that nobody else knows what to do with.
The question is, what are they?
Cinema ticket sales in the UK have been, in recent years, relatively steady – hovering in the region of 170 million – before understandably plummeting in 2020.
But things have not bounced back so quickly in 2021, which we’re putting down to – at least in part –a growth in streaming. Even before the pandemic, Netflix, Amazon Prime and similar services were exploring the idea of streaming new film releases while they’re still at the box office – and this only accelerated when stay-at-home orders were in place.
Plus, with home cinema systems coming close to replicating that big-screen experience, plenty of film fans may be willing to swap popcorn for the comforts of home (not least the chance to pause for a loo break).
Some cinemas have already fallen victim to this trend – the Showcase Cinema in Gorton, Manchester (and adjacent Belle Vue Greyhound Racecourse) closed permanently during the first lockdown, and was recently demolished to be replaced by a housing estate and school.
The march towards electrification in the car market will soon start a death spiral for the local petrol station. Sales of new cars with internal combustion engines will be banned after 2030, so there will be less and less need for physical fuel stations over the next two decades.
As the BBC have very eloquently argued, the eventual ease of charging an electric car will make running a petrol- or diesel-powered car seem more difficult by comparison. After all – if your car was refilling with range every time you parked at a shop, or at work, or at home… you’d very rarely need to visit a dedicated location to ‘fill up’. So not only will there be less need for petrol stations, but most of them won’t have a second life as a charging forecourt.
Former petrol stations can be tricky securities to secure finance against because, understandably, there is the possibility of ground contamination from fuel. However, the land will likely be well-connected by road, which could be suitable for new commercial developments – such as warehouses, for example.
Local libraries are rather similar to churches. People like having them around, and they’re upset if they close, but as for using them? Well for many people, there is very little time or use for a library these days.
The internet and devices such as Kindles have made it possible for people (including students) to access and read almost any book or article that has ever been published – without having to get off the sofa.
According to the most recent research, Britain has closed almost 800 libraries since 2010 – a figure which is now likely even higher following the pandemic. With some boasting rather beautiful, period architecture, and high-ceilings to house those tall bookshelves – we could see libraries becoming the next on-trend target for residential redevelopment.
Out-of-town shopping centres
The struggles of retail have been well-reported in the press in recent years, as an oversupply of units has coincided with the growth of online shopping and a cultural shift that emphasises acquiring memories rather than ‘stuff’.
Much in the way many department stores are struggling currently, out-of-town shopping centres (and other retail outlets with large footprints, like car dealerships) may face a struggle for relevance at a time when almost any physical item can be bought online.
Unlike local high streets and city centre shops, which at least have passing trade from residents and workers, out-of-town units could be over-reliant on car ownership at a time when younger people appear to be falling out of love with it.
While some ‘anchor’ units are already being converted to offer experiences, it’s possible that these retail building’s days are numbered. Conversion to other uses could be on the cards, or perhaps they’ll be demolished for more usable brownfield land.
Now this one is less cut-and-dried.
The overwhelming switch to home-working during the pandemic has helped us realise that technology means we could leave the office behind, if we wanted to – but that’s the question.
Being in the same physical space as co-workers enables knowledge-sharing and collaboration that’s hard to mimic online, and then there’s the social, pastoral and cultural benefits of shared working space.
Ask us, and we think we’ll still need offices in future, but we might need fewer of them. Or smaller ones. Or perhaps even just better ones.
Naturally, as before the pandemic, there will be some blocks that are no longer in use, with nicer and newer developments taking their place.
And as long as there are empty commercial properties, developers will investigate converting them to residential use. Even if they aren’t as romantic as old mills…
Spotted a commercial property ripe for refurbishment?
All content factually correct at the time of publishing.
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