THE PEABODY VIEW

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Dickon Robinson, CABE commissioner and former development director at Peabody Trust, gives his take o­n the live/work market


Dickon Robinson with ODPM urban policy chief David Lunts

Housing associations have a unique selling proposition for live/work: they can provide the units for rent or shared ownership. Unlike most private developers, they will also retain an interest in the scheme long term. This can reassure planners that the work use can be guaranteed through lease covenants or the tenancy agreement. But if associations develop live/work for sale, will this advantage be lost? Won't planners be equally sceptical that the units are residential in disguise?

'It's true that o­nce a unit has been sold o­nly the planners will be able to interpret the use of the building through the consent. But there are other ways to reassure them: the use of design and any arrangement linking the live/work units to other business units and support structures. We increasingly think that the best approach with live/work is to combine it with - or link it to - managed workspaces and other business cluster activity. If it is provided within a residential scheme or area, the live/work risks being isolated. To be a successful employment initiative - which is what I believe this is all about - the live/work must be well connected to other work networks.'

How can live/work providers maximise work use of the units?
'It is the development concept that matters here, not over-detailed and intrusive planning requirements over what happens within the four walls. Being close to business clusters, to work space that live/work residents can expand into when they can afford to do so, is the key.'

'It is the development concept that matters here, not over-detailed and intrusive planning requirements over what happens within the four walls. Being close to business clusters, to work space that live/work residents can expand into when they can afford to do so, is the key.'

What can be done to provide evidence of work use in live/work units that have been sold?
'How can you really do this? This sounds like the nanny state to me. We should take the planners o­n o­n this issue, in my view. They should become much more flexible about property use to reflect the dynamic nature of modern local economies. We are designing dual use property. Live/work is flexible or it is nothing. I see no reason why these units should not be 100% work or 10% live at various times to reflect the economic cycle and the state of the resident's business. At the moment London is awash with residential office space. Why do some planners seek to protect it? Surely it should be able to go both ways?'

'How can you really do this? This sounds like the nanny state to me. We should take the planners o­n o­n this issue, in my view. They should become much more flexible about property use to reflect the dynamic nature of modern local economies. We are designing dual use property. Live/work is flexible or it is nothing. I see no reason why these units should not be 100% work or 10% live at various times to reflect the economic cycle and the state of the resident's business. At the moment London is awash with residential office space. Why do some planners seek to protect it? Surely it should be able to go both ways?'

Are you advocating a complete use-class laissez faire?
'No, but I do believe that using regulation that holds against a strong tide will either mean people ignoring or flouting it or could hold back a perfectly sensible flexible use of property.'

'No, but I do believe that using regulation that holds against a strong tide will either mean people ignoring or flouting it or could hold back a perfectly sensible flexible use of property.'

What national changes would be helpful to stabilise and support live/work?
'A live/work use class would be helpful in planning terms. This would mean that a property could be used for either living or working or both. This would have to be a liberating rather than a restricting measure though. At its best it would mean that anyone buying or renting a unit would have to accept that next door could be working - or living. This in itself would encourage live/work o­n site. Neighbours would know that they had to be considerate in terms of noise etc if they knew other might be just living there. Conversely they would have to accept a more work-like environment if they knew that neighbours could be working. Without this kind of consent it could be legitimate for residents to complain.'

'A live/work use class would be helpful in planning terms. This would mean that a property could be used for either living or working or both. This would have to be a liberating rather than a restricting measure though. At its best it would mean that anyone buying or renting a unit would have to accept that next door could be working - or living. This in itself would encourage live/work o­n site. Neighbours would know that they had to be considerate in terms of noise etc if they knew other might be just living there. Conversely they would have to accept a more work-like environment if they knew that neighbours could be working. Without this kind of consent it could be legitimate for residents to complain.'

How can a percentage work use of a live/work unit be policed?
'What about the third dimension, time?! Are you breaking your consent if you have a dinner party o­n a table used for work meetings, or every time you move a sofa? Flexible/dual use is the o­nly approach I think bears any relation to real life. Beyond that there are also issues that should be addressed for all people working from home - a broader acceptance that the home is today a potential workplace, a cutting of red tape by mortgage lenders, landlords and insurers and a simple approach to tax that does not penalise dual use. Making it hard to work from home is crazy, given that it reduces our use of natural resources, cuts travel time and pollution and can make properties more secure and neighbourhoods more economically active.'

'What about the third dimension, time?! Are you breaking your consent if you have a dinner party o­n a table used for work meetings, or every time you move a sofa? Flexible/dual use is the o­nly approach I think bears any relation to real life. Beyond that there are also issues that should be addressed for all people working from home - a broader acceptance that the home is today a potential workplace, a cutting of red tape by mortgage lenders, landlords and insurers and a simple approach to tax that does not penalise dual use. Making it hard to work from home is crazy, given that it reduces our use of natural resources, cuts travel time and pollution and can make properties more secure and neighbourhoods more economically active.'

Should there be a live/work tenancy?
'Perhaps this would be helpful. We have had problems with our choice of business tenancy at West Ferry. The courts have not been sure about them when it comes to dealing with arrears etc - because someone has been living there too.

'Perhaps this would be helpful. We have had problems with our choice of business tenancy at West Ferry. The courts have not been sure about them when it comes to dealing with arrears etc - because someone has been living there too.

What are the other main barriers to tackle?
'The key issues are tax and VAT problems. I would prefer to see live/work designated for residential council tax plus a small work use levy of 5 or 10 %. If this were applied nationally, it could provide a slight incentive for work use - as people would be paying for this. But live/work residents will often be fairly marginal businesses. It is not helping them - or wider regeneration - to impose higher business rates o­n all or most of their property, as can happen now. And it is not exactly an efficient use of everyone's time sending round inspectors to check how much space is used for business. Local authorities risk sending mixed messages here: prove you are working in the property as much as you can for the planners, but make sure you play down the work use when the ratings officer visits or you will have to pay more.'

'The key issues are tax and VAT problems. I would prefer to see live/work designated for residential council tax plus a small work use levy of 5 or 10 %. If this were applied nationally, it could provide a slight incentive for work use - as people would be paying for this. But live/work residents will often be fairly marginal businesses. It is not helping them - or wider regeneration - to impose higher business rates o­n all or most of their property, as can happen now. And it is not exactly an efficient use of everyone's time sending round inspectors to check how much space is used for business. Local authorities risk sending mixed messages here: prove you are working in the property as much as you can for the planners, but make sure you play down the work use when the ratings officer visits or you will have to pay more.'

Is live/work just working from home?
'No. If it was we would not have to call it live/work. The reality is that working and living in o­ne property is becoming very common. Live/work is a niche market for people who need more than a house or flat but who also can't afford or find decent separate premises. Live/work can help grow relatively fragile businesses by cutting their costs and reducing their time wastage. At its best it can also mean linking people to a wider community or network of businesses, to enable them to share skills, knowledge, contacts and contracts.'

'No. If it was we would not have to call it live/work. The reality is that working and living in o­ne property is becoming very common. Live/work is a niche market for people who need more than a house or flat but who also can't afford or find decent separate premises. Live/work can help grow relatively fragile businesses by cutting their costs and reducing their time wastage. At its best it can also mean linking people to a wider community or network of businesses, to enable them to share skills, knowledge, contacts and contracts.'

Live/work is two things so it risk falling outside the scope of soled agencies. There is no government department responsible for live/work, no grant available specifically to fund it, no national agency to support or regulate it. The housing aspect can be provided by the usual suspects - housing associations or developers. What about the management of the work aspects of live/work?
'There are managed workspace companies, such as Workspace, who could fulfil this role. But I do accept it is not easy to know where to start looking for the agency or company that will do this part of the live/work support. Housing associations do not usually have these skills so we have to work with other partners. What is essential, whoever they may be, is that we all focus o­n the aim of developing live/work - supporting business growth.'

'There are managed workspace companies, such as Workspace, who could fulfil this role. But I do accept it is not easy to know where to start looking for the agency or company that will do this part of the live/work support. Housing associations do not usually have these skills so we have to work with other partners. What is essential, whoever they may be, is that we all focus o­n the aim of developing live/work - supporting business growth.'

Should live/work schemes be seen as a resource that can be used to help many businesses get established?
'It is a stepping stone, yes. If they are successful the residents will move o­n. If the primary objective is the success of each live/work enterprise, we shouldn't be hung up o­n whether they move o­n and use the unit 100% for work or move their business and stay to live. This is why being connected to a managed workspace set up is important. Live/work businesses can then expand and move o­n to premises nearby. A cluster atmosphere can be encouraged this way.'

'It is a stepping stone, yes. If they are successful the residents will move o­n. If the primary objective is the success of each live/work enterprise, we shouldn't be hung up o­n whether they move o­n and use the unit 100% for work or move their business and stay to live. This is why being connected to a managed workspace set up is important. Live/work businesses can then expand and move o­n to premises nearby. A cluster atmosphere can be encouraged this way.'

How should live/work be designed?
'There is no o­ne model emerging. But it is important to design live/work with clear work incentive. That is partly about location and being near other work units that are not live/work. But the units themselves can encourage work use. For example at BedZed the work space at the live/work units has lots of natural light but no views. Why would you buy a unit like this just to live in? At Raynes Dairy the work spaces open o­nto the pavement. Who would want their living room to do that?'

'There is no o­ne model emerging. But it is important to design live/work with clear work incentive. That is partly about location and being near other work units that are not live/work. But the units themselves can encourage work use. For example at BedZed the work space at the live/work units has lots of natural light but no views. Why would you buy a unit like this just to live in? At Raynes Dairy the work spaces open o­nto the pavement. Who would want their living room to do that?'

Should associations offer live/work for sale?
'At West Ferry some tenants would like shared ownership. They would like to build up an asset for their company while based in the property. Originally when the scheme was built the Charity Commission would have ruled this out, but it has changed its rules o­n regeneration allowing this to take place. This is a dilemma for housing associations because having rented live/work units ensures enforcement or encouragement of work use. Selling units clearly leaves associations in a similar position to developers with less interest in the long term use of the properties, particularly o­n a site where there is not rented housing or other activity going o­n. However many companies will want to invest in property because this will be a way of creating an asset that can help the company develop, and there is a natural tendency amongst those with sufficient income to want to own their home anyway. The answer may be shared ownership or flexible tenure levels within any given unit. If the association can retain some rented element o­n a live/work unit it can more successfully ensure work use o­n the property.'

'At West Ferry some tenants would like shared ownership. They would like to build up an asset for their company while based in the property. Originally when the scheme was built the Charity Commission would have ruled this out, but it has changed its rules o­n regeneration allowing this to take place. This is a dilemma for housing associations because having rented live/work units ensures enforcement or encouragement of work use. Selling units clearly leaves associations in a similar position to developers with less interest in the long term use of the properties, particularly o­n a site where there is not rented housing or other activity going o­n. However many companies will want to invest in property because this will be a way of creating an asset that can help the company develop, and there is a natural tendency amongst those with sufficient income to want to own their home anyway. The answer may be shared ownership or flexible tenure levels within any given unit. If the association can retain some rented element o­n a live/work unit it can more successfully ensure work use o­n the property.'
'It's true that o­nce a unit has been sold o­nly the planners will be able to interpret the use of the building through the consent. But there are other ways to reassure them: the use of design and any arrangement linking the live/work units to other business units and support structures. We increasingly think that the best approach with live/work is to combine it with - or link it to - managed workspaces and other business cluster activity. If it is provided within a residential scheme or area, the live/work risks being isolated. To be a successful employment initiative - which is what I believe this is all about - the live/work must be well connected to other work networks.''It is the development concept that matters here, not over-detailed and intrusive planning requirements over what happens within the four walls. Being close to business clusters, to work space that live/work residents can expand into when they can afford to do so, is the key.''How can you really do this? This sounds like the nanny state to me. We should take the planners o­n o­n this issue, in my view. They should become much more flexible about property use to reflect the dynamic nature of modern local economies. We are designing dual use property. Live/work is flexible or it is nothing. I see no reason why these units should not be 100% work or 10% live at various times to reflect the economic cycle and the state of the resident's business. At the moment London is awash with residential office space. Why do some planners seek to protect it? Surely it should be able to go both ways?''No, but I do believe that using regulation that holds against a strong tide will either mean people ignoring or flouting it or could hold back a perfectly sensible flexible use of property.''A live/work use class would be helpful in planning terms. This would mean that a property could be used for either living or working or both. This would have to be a liberating rather than a restricting measure though. At its best it would mean that anyone buying or renting a unit would have to accept that next door could be working - or living. This in itself would encourage live/work o­n site. Neighbours would know that they had to be considerate in terms of noise etc if they knew other might be just living there. Conversely they would have to accept a more work-like environment if they knew that neighbours could be working. Without this kind of consent it could be legitimate for residents to complain.''What about the third dimension, time?! Are you breaking your consent if you have a dinner party o­n a table used for work meetings, or every time you move a sofa? Flexible/dual use is the o­nly approach I think bears any relation to real life. Beyond that there are also issues that should be addressed for all people working from home - a broader acceptance that the home is today a potential workplace, a cutting of red tape by mortgage lenders, landlords and insurers and a simple approach to tax that does not penalise dual use. Making it hard to work from home is crazy, given that it reduces our use of natural resources, cuts travel time and pollution and can make properties more secure and neighbourhoods more economically active.''Perhaps this would be helpful. We have had problems with our choice of business tenancy at West Ferry. The courts have not been sure about them when it comes to dealing with arrears etc - because someone has been living there too. 'The key issues are tax and VAT problems. I would prefer to see live/work designated for residential council tax plus a small work use levy of 5 or 10 %. If this were applied nationally, it could provide a slight incentive for work use - as people would be paying for this. But live/work residents will often be fairly marginal businesses. It is not helping them - or wider regeneration - to impose higher business rates o­n all or most of their property, as can happen now. And it is not exactly an efficient use of everyone's time sending round inspectors to check how much space is used for business. Local authorities risk sending mixed messages here: prove you are working in the property as much as you can for the planners, but make sure you play down the work use when the ratings officer visits or you will have to pay more.' 'No. If it was we would not have to call it live/work. The reality is that working and living in o­ne property is becoming very common. Live/work is a niche market for people who need more than a house or flat but who also can't afford or find decent separate premises. Live/work can help grow relatively fragile businesses by cutting their costs and reducing their time wastage. At its best it can also mean linking people to a wider community or network of businesses, to enable them to share skills, knowledge, contacts and contracts.''There are managed workspace companies, such as Workspace, who could fulfil this role. But I do accept it is not easy to know where to start looking for the agency or company that will do this part of the live/work support. Housing associations do not usually have these skills so we have to work with other partners. What is essential, whoever they may be, is that we all focus o­n the aim of developing live/work - supporting business growth.' 'It is a stepping stone, yes. If they are successful the residents will move o­n. If the primary objective is the success of each live/work enterprise, we shouldn't be hung up o­n whether they move o­n and use the unit 100% for work or move their business and stay to live. This is why being connected to a managed workspace set up is important. Live/work businesses can then expand and move o­n to premises nearby. A cluster atmosphere can be encouraged this way.''There is no o­ne model emerging. But it is important to design live/work with clear work incentive. That is partly about location and being near other work units that are not live/work. But the units themselves can encourage work use. For example at BedZed the work space at the live/work units has lots of natural light but no views. Why would you buy a unit like this just to live in? At Raynes Dairy the work spaces open o­nto the pavement. Who would want their living room to do that?''At West Ferry some tenants would like shared ownership. They would like to build up an asset for their company while based in the property. Originally when the scheme was built the Charity Commission would have ruled this out, but it has changed its rules o­n regeneration allowing this to take place. This is a dilemma for housing associations because having rented live/work units ensures enforcement or encouragement of work use. Selling units clearly leaves associations in a similar position to developers with less interest in the long term use of the properties, particularly o­n a site where there is not rented housing or other activity going o­n. However many companies will want to invest in property because this will be a way of creating an asset that can help the company develop, and there is a natural tendency amongst those with sufficient income to want to own their home anyway. The answer may be shared ownership or flexible tenure levels within any given unit. If the association can retain some rented element o­n a live/work unit it can more successfully ensure work use o­n the property.'


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