With much of the building unoccupied, and empty for a number of years, Pearl House in Wolverhampton was no longer viable as an office block. The team supported Charles Jordan Ltd on the application for the conversion from office use into new apartments, which will provide much-needed housing for the city.
Office buildings have permitted development rights for conversion into residential dwellings. At the time of our client approaching us (late June 2021), these were known as Class O. Class O rights were due to end on 1 August 2021, to be replaced with Class MA. However, due to the size of the building, it would not meet the new legislation under Class MA. The team therefore had a month to prepare and submit an application under the Class O legislation.
With the Class O application for the remaining floors having to be submitted before 1 August, we briefed, commissioned and proofed a series of third party reports relating to noise, transport, flood risk and contaminated land to ensure the application was found valid upon submission under the Class O legislation.
As a result, the Class O application was approved, with a proposed laundry room, cycle store and bin store to the lower ground floor. As part of the later Class MA application, these facilities had to be retained to support the previously granted application to convert the upper floors to residential use.
Due to the depth of the building, and there only being windows to the front and rear elevation, we highlighted the importance of instructing on daylight modelling work. The front windows at this level were also behind a retaining wall, which meant that it was questionable whether enough daylight would be received for conversion of this floor (adequate natural daylight is a requirement of the Class MA legislation).
Our planning team worked with the architect to come up with an internal layout for the residential units on the lower ground floor that maximized daylight by keeping the units open plan. We reconfigured the location and orientation of the laundry room, cycle store and bin store so that maximum numbers of residential units could be achieved on the lower ground floor, all while adhering to national space standards.
To support the application, we also commissioned a daylight assessment from a third party assessor, which modelled light levels within the proposed units. As a result, this application was also granted prior approval, with no issues.
This project is a great example of positive engagement with a local planning authority. The efficient use of an underutilised building will bring much needed housing in a highly sustainable city centre location, close to all required amenities.