Light industrial buildings are buildings that house industrial processes, and which are located in a residential area. This proximity to other homes is an obvious benefit since we don’t want to convert properties that are in the middle of nowhere or on an industrial estate. Nearly every town in the country has hundreds of these buildings. Most have grown organically, sometimes without planning permission, over the last century or so. Walk down any number of streets near the town centre, and you’ll see plenty of them, often hiding in plain sight. Many are little more than four walls and a roof, the idea being to create a large open-plan space that can house whatever business is being run there. Printing works, MOT centres, workshops, car repairers, widget manufacturers – there’s a long list of businesses that will occupy light industrial units. And it’s fair to say that the vast majority of these buildings are not what you’d call ‘lookers’. In fact, they’re quite the opposite.
As a result, when most people look at a light industrial building, they don’t immediately think, ‘what a great opportunity to convert it into apartments.’ Instead, they think, ‘who could possibly want to live in that ugly old building? Surely you’d need to knock it down and start again.’ This immediately removes most of the competition since the cost of demolishing and then rebuilding from scratch will be far more than simply converting what’s already there. This is excellent news, as it satisfies rule number one; ditch the competition.
But the ‘ugly is beautiful’ thing doesn’t end there, as there is a raft of other benefits to converting light industrial buildings. Let me share a few of them with you. Firstly, most light industrial buildings will be built on a thick concrete slab. This slab will typically extend across the entire floor plate and should be more than sufficient to support a residential building. This means that wherever you want to build a wall, you already have a nice firm base in place on which to build it. In many cases, the base may even be deep enough to support a multi-storey residential building, and let’s face it, two storeys is always going to be more profitable than one.
Most light industrial buildings are open plan, unlike office buildings which tend to have supporting pillars and stairwells dotted around. This makes for far fewer constraints in terms of the layout of your flats. It’s relatively straightforward to upgrade the walls, floor, and roof to residential specification, plus your contractor will love you since they can do most of the work inside, under cover (rain isn’t much fun to work in and can even stop play). Light industrial buildings also tend to have significant headroom. This could not only allow you to add a second storey or to create vaulted ceilings, but you also have room to raise the floor to accommodate insulation and pipework underneath. And since you’re not disturbing the existing concrete base, any potential contamination issues lying underneath it will remain equally undisturbed.
Conversions are all very well, but what about new-build, I hear you ask? All this recycling of existing buildings sounds very worthy, but surely it’s easier to build something new from scratch? Well, once you have planning permission granted and the foundations are in, then I’d probably agree with you. But two of the key challenges of new-build is the unknown quantity of going into the ground and the risk of NOT getting planning permission. All manner of horrors can be found lurking beneath the contractor’s spade, such as old wells, utility pipes, and unstable soil, and you only get to discover these problems once work commences. That coupled with the requirement for full planning permission makes new-build riskier in my book than converting an existing building under permitted development. In addition, digging the footings for a new-build is relatively straightforward when the weather is fine but not so great when it’s not. I’ll let you opine on how many guaranteed dry weeks there are in the English calendar, but it’s a moot point with a conversion project since the footings are already in place.