Warning over shortage of offices in St Albans

Saxon House, Upper Marlborough Road

Saxon House, Upper Marlborough Road - Credit: Archant

Home buyers are snapping up apartments built in converted offices – some of which have been lying empty in St Albans’ city centre for years.

But while they are proving particularly attractive to people moving from London, warnings continue to be aired about the knock-on effect on local employment.

With developers taking advantage of relaxed change of use rules to convert many office buildings to about 500 new apartments, estate agents are reporting steady interest from newcomers.

Nick Doyle, operations director of Aitchisons, Holywell Hill, said there was buyer interest in every former office building his firm had advertised.

Saxon House, a former hat factory boasting high ceilings and large windows in Upper Marlborough Road, saw 14 flats sold “very quickly” upon completion.

Nick said: “Apartments are being bought by some investors but there are a lot of London buyers and they want brand new apartments.

“I’m not surprised at how quickly they are being sold, as it is symptomatic of the huge demand for city centre living.

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“It offers more of the lifestyle that someone who is used to the hustle and bustle of London can relate to, and St Albans is inexpensive compared to parts of London.”

He added: “A lot of the buildings which have been converted were empty, or had businesses which have been relocated. People don’t like leaving such buildings empty.”

But Eric Roberts, of St Albans Civic Society, warned that the district’s office stock was “being seriously compromised”.

He said: “It’s accepted we need homes but we need jobs too. The conversion rate is now alarming.

“Where will local people work? They are being forced to commute. New businesses may well want to come here but short supply of office space will push up rates and rents and we will lose them.

“The city’s retail base is being compromised. We need homes but it has gone too far.”

Both the society and the Local Government Association are concerned that there is no obligation on developers making such conversions to provide financial contributions towards improvements to local services and infrastructure, thereby putting pressure on schools, roads and health services.

Peter Goodman, president of the St Albans District Chamber of Commerce, said: “There is absolutely a problem. We have a thriving business community here with minimal unemployment, and it’s a shame to see the city become more of a dormitory town.

“It isn’t good for St Albans to continue reducing its office space.”