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Property market: Mixed use development

A return to mixed use development could offer dealers a cost-effective route to opening new urban outlets or, in some cases, being able to afford to remain in existing inner city sites.

The practice of automotive dealership facilities sharing space with private or local authority housing, offices, or with other high street retailers, was common in the post Second World War building boom.

This was a practice overtaken by the late 20th century trend, encouraged by local authorities, of moving car sales and service to new brownfield or out-of-town parks.

Now, car manufacturers and dealer groups are beginning to revisit the ‘mix’ concept to help fill open spaces in areas with sky-high property prices and with construction costs to match.

Some dealers are investigating ‘air rights’, where they can make profitable use of roof spaces by renting them off for leisure, entertainment or for catering purposes.

The key is to enter mutually beneficial partnerships that will also be viewed favourably by planning authorities.

An example of this would be a site that could incorporate low-cost housing or which has scope to provide additional hotel accommodation in an area where there is a shortage.

AM’s information is that both Ford PAG and General Motors are looking for suitable co- location partners for a number of projects in and around London.

While neither is prepared to comment officially on any specific development plans, spokesmen for both say they are always looking at ways to reduce the costs of urban representation.

Citroën is also believed to be studying the concept’s feasibility in the capital, although a spokesman for the manufacturer’s UK office says he has no knowledge of any such plans.

Roger Adams is founder of London-based architect Bisset Adams, which was heavily involved in the design of Vauxhall’s brand centre in Luton, Honda’s brand centre in Chiswick and with Volvo UK’s showroom blueprint.

He agrees that the mixed use concept makes sense in areas where stand-alone automotive retail premises face the obstacles of high prices and low chances of planning consent.

But he issues a warning: “It’s important that retailers considering exploiting mixed use do not try to become developers,” says Adams.

“It’s crucial to find the ideal development partnership and to find the right team to develop that partnership. I believe this concept can only work as a joint venture.”

The ideal scenario is an arrangement whereby the dealer gets the shell free, paying just for fitting out. Using the empty space above an existing dealership is also worth considering, Adams explains. Many supermarket chains already employ this tactic, which plan-in flats, restaurants or offices above the shop. All of which demonstrates added benefit to the local community.

Neville Clements, managing director and chairman of West Midlands-based Adonis Construction, also sees the automotive property mood swinging towards dual use. “Often it’s ‘better use’,” he says. “There must be hundreds and hundreds of steel frame showrooms up and down the country where moving up could be an option.

“OK, so it’s more expensive to construct a two-storey building and sometimes it’s just not practical, but I believe more and companies will want to maximize their profits and minimize their costs in this way.”

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