Synonymous with “loft living” the abandoned industrial building originated in the United States and was seen as a way to regenerate inner city areas made redundant by the decline of the American manufacturing industry. Loft living’ in the 1980’s especially appealed to artists, who typically loved the wide-open spaces, that allowed them to live and create, and this started to appear in Shoreditch in the
Live/work and the Shoreditch Renaissance early 1990’s.
So, to all intents and purposes in 1990 Shoreditch was “dead” a ghost town, vacancy rates were high, and, unlike previous slumps in demand and peaks in vacancy, this one
went on, and on and on, with the commercial property market going into recession in
1990 and not really emerging until 1996, and then only in more central locations.
Building owners lived in hope for a while, but eventually were willing to offer space at
virtually “nil” rent in order to get buildings occupied and the rates paid. This was the
atmosphere in which live-work “pioneers” began to colonise the empty building stock,
usually, the buildings which had an aesthetic appeal to such pioneers, being the multi-
storey Victorian furniture factories, warehouses and showrooms for which Shoreditch is
Some just set up studio workspaces, but others set up living spaces, sometimes attempting to get planning consent, but often occupying out-with planning-consent.
Given the lack of demand for any type of commercial property in the area, and that
London Borough Hackney was itself through the Dalston City Partnership (DCP) attempting to undertake physical regeneration, there was a good deal of sympathy for the live-work pioneers in Hackney.
The pioneers were bringing redundant buildings into use, improving the built fabric through refurbishment, utilising local business and residential support services
and were often self-employed or small businesses in sectors that Hackney wished to
encourage such as: art and photography.
Shoreditch was home to a concentration of self-employed photographers, who found that the buildings converted well to shooting studios (high ceilings, good light), darkrooms and offices, but also it had a concentration of commercial processing facilities in locations such as Perseverance Works located on Hackney Road and Kingsland Road.
Initially Live/work was welcomed by many Local Authorities in London, with several boroughs developing (SPG) Supplementary Planning Guidance for this development type. This maintained some element of development control over the separation of ‘live’ and ‘work’ areas within the apartments, but as the area stated to popularise and more developers started to develop live/workspaces, the authorities and the lending institutions struggled with the concept.
There was a was a storm brewing
Developers successfully challenged the controls within the guidance, principally pertaining to the workspace requirements and the quantum of affordable housing, which inevitably led to scepticism within some planning authorities, with many simply seeing this as a loophole to overcome planning, with projects often reverting to solely residential use.
Over time live/work was abused mostly by mainstream developers to get around employment land restrictions, whilst not providing actual workspace and to reduce the social housing percentage. Enforcement issues and an inconsistent approach from the Planning Inspectorate on determining appeals led to the concept slowly failing.
In part, the confusion surrounded the use class. Live/work is not an easy category to define precisely and is more of a conceptual idea than a precise planning law term and as such is often referred to as sui generis. Conditions have been applied which have sought to secure a continuing ratio between workspace and living space, prevent sub-division and restrict residential occupation to those employed in the linked workspace.
The Latin term ‘sui generis‘ means ‘of its own kind’. It is a term used to categorise buildings that do not fall within any particular use class for the purposes of planning permission. There are, however, permitted development rights that allow movement between some sui generis uses and other uses.
It’s interesting that live/work ticks so many of the policy boxes and complies with several of the key objectives within the National Planning Policy Framework (‘NPPF’) – delivering required homes, whilst helping to build a strong competitive economy and making effective use of land. NPPF paragraph 81(d) states when producing planning policies, these should “be flexible enough to accommodate needs not anticipated in the plan, allow for new and flexible working practices (such as live-work accommodation), and to enable a rapid response to changes in economic circumstances.”
Whilst the NPPF appears to encourage flexible accommodation such as live/work, very few, if any new schemes have been permitted, and now with our lives so wrapped into living and working from home this may well be the time to consider a whole new rethink and approach to living and working from home, which should of course needs to me done with the banks and lending institutions, to make this market more easily accessible and remove the barriers and current complications around this user class.
COVID-19 has led to a necessitated shift to work from home, and it seems certain that in the future we will spend much more time working and living in our homes.
We can also once again see this shift opening the conversation between local authorities, developers and those who will now recognise the genuine social and economic benefits of live work homes.