The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated the trend from full-time office-based work to a mixture of working from home and conventional office-based work. This pattern is likely to persist, at least in part, after the pandemic recedes, as businesses stand to save on office rental costs and employees generally report higher levels of satisfaction with a mixed mode of working.
However, this will leave many office buildings permanently underoccupied and, even as prices decline, the market for converting similar buildings for alternative uses has historically been slow and inflexible. Statista estimated in 2015 that it was only in 2014 that office occupancy in London returned to pre-2008 levels: offices were left empty for the better part of a decade rather than converted to alternative uses.
Much of this office stock is concentrated in areas with a chronic undersupply of affordable housing. This situation is unlikely to change: people will still want to live in cities, particularly once the hospitality and cultural industries, which make urban living appealing even in the absence of office-working, recover. This shortage causes distress and rent-poverty for many, as well as acting as a drag on Britain‚’s post-Brexit productivity.
Undersupply is not the only housing crisis Britain faces: without the widespread decarbonisation of housing, Britain‚’s plan to meet its net zero carbon emissions target by 2050 will stall out in the early 2020s, according to 2019 projections from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Even the enormous decline in carbon-producing activity (13% according to the Global Carbon Project) during 2020 has not been enough to put Britain back on track.
These issues together ‚’ expensive, carbon-spewing homes next to vacant office blocks ‚’ provide a unique opportunity to kill multiple birds with the same stone.
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