An landmark North-East business complex — once the biggest office site in Europe — could be converted to residential accommodation after changing hands for the second time in five months.
In September last year Kennedy Wilson Europe Real Estate paid £296m for the Regent Centre in Gosforth, Newcastle, as part of its acquisition of the Fordgate Jupiter portfolio.
Just after Christmas the 1970s complex, originally developed by North British Properties, was sold on in an off-market transaction to a private, family-owned property firm represented by developer Omnia Offices. No figure for the sale has been disclosed.
Now Sheffield-based Omnia has submitted a planning application to Newcastle City Council requesting prior approval to change the use of the centre’s six buildings — covering 320,000 sq ft — from office to residential use.
An Omnia spokesman said no “concrete plans” had been agreed for the office site, but confirmed separate notes had been submitted for each building. Dobson House – home to the recently expanded Grainger Suite – would be changed to create around 36 dwellings. Arden House would become the site for 72 dwellings, Eldon House East and West (pictured) would house 45 and 63 dwellings respectively, Northumbria House would have 70 dwellings and Horsley House 114 homes.
“We are simply exploring possibilities and running appraisals. At this stage no decision has been made on the plans for the site,” he added.
Formed in 2004, Omnia is a nationwide management company specialising in commercial, residential and student property. When it confirmed January’s purchase, managing director Seb Brown said: “We believe there is an opportunity to build on the strengths of this location.”
The transformation plans are in line with Government legislation, published in May 2013, allowing offices to be converted to homes without the need for planning permission. Communities Secretary Eric Pickles justified the change as “giving a clear signal to owners, developers and local planning authorities that we want underused and outdated offices to be brought back to life”. Among the permitted development rights’ restrictions was a May 2016 deadline for applications.
Subsequent proposals to extend the scheme, or even make it permanent, met with opposition from worried local authorities and London Mayor Boris Johnson. Last week it was reported that the backlash appears to have persuaded the government to drop the idea.
“The Regent Centre is now of an age where significant capital expenditure is required to bring it to modern standards and most of the buildings are 40 years old,” commented Simon Taylor, head of the office agency at Newcastle-based Naylors Chartered Surveyors.
“The demand for offices is greatest in Newcastle City Centre and high quality business parks and Regent Centre does not fall into either of those categories.
“There is more than half-a-million square feet immediately available at the nearby Quorum and Cobalt business parks and new offices will be developed at Newcastle Airport in the short to medium term,” he added. “And, in residential terms, Gosforth is one of the region’s more sought after locations.”
Built on an 11-acre colliery site, the Regent Centre was completed in 1981 after more than a decade of rolling development. At the time it was the largest office complex in Europe. It still has some prestige tenants including the head office of the Virgin Money banking group and contains the regional headquarters of HM Revenue & Customs, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and Health and Safety Executive.