Old building

Old vs new housing stock

The property development industry is split on the sustainability and value of redevelopments compared with new builds.


At a time of diminished property availability, developers are utilising a variety of methods to help increase stock.

These include redevelopment and refurbishment, as well as the construction of new-build properties.

However, one property surveyor reported that it had seen the number of failing or struggling developments rise 5% in the last 12 months.

This follows a decline in residential construction as private sector housebuilding in London has fallen behind the national average by 34%.

Ashley Ilsen, head of lending and CMO at Regentsmead, believed that there were a range of concerns that hindered ground-up developments in the UK, including a lack of finance and land.

However, he pointed to the planning system as the main source of frustration among its builder and developer clients.

“In my opinion, there needs to be a serious overhaul of the system, however, I don’t see this changing any time soon,” he said.

Ashley added that there needed to be more incentives for eco-friendly housing.

“There are some superb timber frame and module systems available, however, there needs to be more of a push towards encouraging new homes developers to focus on this area.”

New-build developments can present a range of challenges for SME builders that are not present in redevelopments or conversions.

Gareth Belsham, director at the national surveyors Naismiths, explained: “A new-build development is usually a much longer-term play than a conversion scheme.

“Not least because planning obstacles and processes are much trickier, time-consuming and probably expensive for a new-build compared to a conversion.

“In addition, current planning policy facilitates some conversions (for example, office to residential) under permitted development rights, which offer substantial short cuts to the normal planning process.

“This leads to a much quicker turnaround from inception to delivery, however, competition is fierce in this domain.”

A freedom of information request submitted by Development Finance Today revealed that the number of permitted development schemes approved in Leeds increased by 47.5% during 2016.

“Without question, the re-use of existing but obsolescent building stock for the purposes of meeting social demand for housing is a more sustainable option than new builds – especially on greenfield sites,” Gareth added.

On the other hand, Tal Orly, founder and CEO of Cogress UK, believed that new builds had a number of advantages over redevelopments.

“Old stock buildings tend to confine developers to the envelope of the existing structure,” he said.

“Significant reconfiguration can be so costly to the point where it becomes more financially viable to demolish the building and start afresh.

“New developments give a lot more freedom to build efficient layouts and designs that maximise living space and thereby contribute more suitable homes to assist in tackling the housing crisis.

“While the construction process can be more eco-friendly when redeveloping – as less construction materials are used – the longer-term impact is that new developments are a lot more sustainable and eco-friendly.”

Tal added that the lack of land continued to constrain development opportunities and drive up the value of appropriate sites.

When assessing the sustainability of developments, the environmental impact inevitably becomes an issue.

This raises the question: should there be a greater emphasis on the refurbishment of old stock to save resources and the environment?

Aidan Bell, co-founder of EnviroBuild, said: "It's important to consider the importance of sustainability in redevelopment when construction and demolition waste is estimated at 25-30% of all waste generated in the EU.

“Depending upon a building's design, the embodied energy of the build can be 15-35% of the total energy ever used in the building's use.

“Clearly, this is not an insignificant amount, so losing huge portions of this is definitely not good.

“In this way then, if a building can be refurbished, then the energy savings are huge and, therefore, environmentally preferable for all, except the absolutely most inefficient of buildings."

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