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Paul Styles discusses future property trends
Trends in the Built Environment: 

Is the demise of commuting on the horizon?  Whether as office workers or in manufacturing, our children could be the last generation of commuters.

The announcement by the Church of England of an upcoming review of the use of church buildings, has led me to think about its implications. The obvious likely result will be the increased number of applications for town planning consent to convert church buildings to other uses, including residential. This comes at an opportune time, given the substantial increase in home working, accelerated by the COVID-19 crisis.

We may be on the threshold of a return to more provincial – if not rural – living.

Home working is destined to have a profound effect on the use and cost of buildings, particularly in our main cities. We are already witnessing the conversion of many redundant office blocks to residential use, which may well satisfy the demand for city and urban housing within a generation.

city skyline

The attraction of the urban environment

is likely to diminish for a typical family with children, as the need to commute diminishes and the lure of a more tranquil rural lifestyle beckons. This will be followed by long-term price falls for a typical urban family house and price hikes for housing in the shires.

Flat dwellings within the inner city are likely to continue to be in high demand from a young singleton generation, keen to be within easy reach of social outlets and entertainment centres.

Demographic implications are; that the young will be able to afford locations nearer to city centres for starter homes, to buy or to rent, while families migrate away from the big conurbations in search of less expensive but larger dwellings, some seeking to be closer to their roots and support from their extended families.

The social Implications of population decentralisation are likely to increase the proportion of introverts in society, create more self-reliant but increasingly risk averse individuals, who may be less socially skilled than previous generations, but who will look to more technical solutions to remotely engage.
The inevitable increase in the rural population, should accelerate agricultural reform to diminish the use of environmentally damaging practises, such as the excessive use of insecticides and fertilisers, as more rural pressure groups lobby their farmer neighbours and hold them more accountable.

A revival of country living should produce a new generation of healthier, less obese children, with better access to open spaces for recreation and exercise. New development schemes should see a revival of rural villages, country pubs and the likely proliferation of retirement homes near to village amenities. Treats to green belts and the expansion of small towns and villages are inevitable. This may be curtailed by local and Town Planning legislation, stimulating rises in the cost of rural housing.

train at station

In terms of transport infrastructure:

Demand for long distance commercial travel is bound to fall, as fewer face to face encounters will be considered necessary, rural life will be more – ultimately driverless, electric – car dependent and self-reliant.

In light of this, HS2 and the third runway at Heathrow – both promoted as essential stimulants to business – should be re-considered.

As well as pressure on rural sites for development, diminished commuting should lead to less urban pollution and fewer city dwellers. The pattern of development of the built environment is likely to be of less density, over a much wider area, posing a threat to much of our much-loved countryside.

The future of real property prices:
A general fall in house prices is likely to result directly from the Covet-19 crises, due to the recession/depression expected to follow, inducing a dramatic rise in unemployment. Pundits believe it will take at least five years to restore employment to normal levels. The longer term will see city and urban home prices fall, particularly for flats, as redundant offices and industrial sites are converted to residential, making them more accessible for a new generation of first-time buyers.

Long term:
The demise of manufacturing in both advanced and underdeveloped economies may well be destined to be halted by ‘Three D’ copying. These machines are still in the early stages of development, but within a generation, we could develop the ability to manufacture virtually any object locally or even at home. This will have profound implications for world trade, particularly the shipping of manufactured goods by road, sea and air. Food and raw materials would of course continue to be imported but every individual is bound to be more self-sufficient in manufactured goods.

The direct consequence of local manufacturing must be fewer sea and air ports and another generation of redundant buildings and brown field sites ripe for alternative use.

Paul Styles FRICS.
The author is a chartered building surveyor, in private practice in NW3 2LN as PD Styles & Company Ltd. email:

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