A prime office complex in Newcastle could be converted into 400 homes as part of plans being explored by developers.
The Regent Centre in Gosforth, built in the 1970s by North British Properties, was bought in an off-market transaction for an undisclosed sum by a private, family-owned property firm represented by developer Omnia Offices at the start of the year.
Now planning applications have been submitted by Sheffield-based Omnia, requesting prior approval to change the use of the centre’s six buildings from office to residential use.
Separate notes have been sent in for each building, suggesting Dobson House – which houses the recently expanded Grainger Suite – would be changed to create around 36 dwellings.
Meanwhile, Arden House would become the site for 72 dwellings, Eldon House East and West would house 45 and 63 dwellings respectively, Northumbria House would have 70 dwellings and Horsley House 114 homes.
Despite the applications to Newcastle City Council, a director for Omnia said no concrete plans have been put in place for the Regent Centre yet.
He added: “We are simply exploring possibilities and running appraisals. At this stage no decision has been made on the plans for the site.”
When Omnia confirmed the acquisition of the centre in January, managing director Seb Brown said it was part of his client’s commitment to build up a portfolio of properties which offer significant asset management potential through “appropriate vision”.
At the time, he said: “We believe there is an opportunity to build on the strengths of the location. Details of how we will achieve this will be revealed in due course.“
Omnia, which was formed in 2004 is a property management company working throughout the UK managing commercial, residential and student property, operating two blocks in Sheffield and Bournemouth.
The firm said that it has not applied to transform the Gosforth centre into student accommodation.
A spokesman for property consultants Bilfinger GVA said the move reflected the changing times.
“Newcastle and the suburbs have seen the impact of the reduction of office stock and change of use applications have led to many central office buildings being converted.
“Government initiatives allowing for change of use has brought forward a lot of this, leading to some older office stock being brought back into economic use.
“But it’s time limited, and in some cases developers are rushing to get schemes through before the deadline.
“When the Regent Centre was developed more than 40 years ago it was ahead of its time but since we’ve seen the development of Quorum and Cobalt business parks. In essence, times have moved on and investors are exploring avenues for their assets.”
In May 2013 the Government published legislation to introduce new permitted development rights allowing offices to be converted to homes without the need for planning permission.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said the change “gives a clear signal to owners, developers and local planning authorities that we want underused and outdated offices to be brought back to life, and provides an excellent opportunity to create much needed new homes”.
However, the legislation had several restrictions, including a deadline of May 30 2016, and even if permission is not required for the use change, planning or other consents may be needed for related works to the property.
Simon Taylor, head of office agency at Naylors, added: “The Regent Centre is now of an age where significant capital expenditure is required to bring it to modern standards and most of the buildings are 40 years old.
“The demand for offices is greatest in Newcastle City Centre and high quality business parks and Regent Centre does not fall into either of those categories.
“There is more than half a million square foot immediately available at Quorum and Cobalt and new offices will be developed at Newcastle Airport in the short to medium term, plus, in residential terms, Gosforth is one of the region’s more sought after locations.”