Last edited 01 Oct 2015

Meanwhile use of buildings

Commercial spaces can remain empty when one occupant leaves and another has yet to be found. These empty spaces can blight local areas, particularly in town and city centres, where vacant spaces such as shops can give a very bad impression. This can be a serious problem during recessions, when a number of properties in one area may remain empty.

The term ‘meanwhile use’ refers to the short-term use of temporarily empty buildings such as shops until they can be brought back into commercial use. It takes a potential problem and turns it into an opportunity and helps keep an area vibrant. The landlord will continue to look for a new commercial occupant for the space during the meanwhile use.

Meanwhile uses are generally for the benefit of the local community, for example; meeting spaces, informal training and learning spaces, temporary rehearsal spaces, pop-up shops and exhibitions and so on. They can offer a breeding ground for innovative ideas and empower the local community. They can last just a few days, or several years.

The agreement with the landlord might give the user responsibility for paying business rates and utilities costs but might not require payment of rent, service charges or building insurance. It might specify that the property can only be used for non-commercial purposes.

This can be to the benefit of the landlord who will no longer be liable for empty property business rates, may have lower security costs and so on. This means they may be better off, even if they do not charge rent.

The government has prepared a range of leases to encourage the temporary occupation of empty town centre retail premises by non-commercial occupiers. It has also relaxed controls of change of use class to make the permitted use of spaces more flexible.

In November 2014, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced that he wanted to ‘…help match-make entrepreneurs and community groups with local authorities and land-owners to find temporary uses for vacant buildings and land rather than let these sites go to waste.’

He suggested that meanwhile use was not fully exploited in the North of England and that it could provide invaluable space, ‘…transforming empty shells into dynamic hubs for business start ups or centres for the arts and creative industries.’

He proposed a Northern Futures initiative, creating a working group including representatives from local government, businesses and charities to investigate how more vacant buildings and land can be brought back into temporary use in the North. The working group will present their findings in January 2015. Ref Deputy Prime Minister plans to bring empty buildings back to life in the North 26 November 2014.

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