Developers behind plans to convert two listed buildings in Derby say they see an exciting future for the city despite the economic crisis caused by COVID-19.
Having already completed the Urban Lofts student accommodation scheme in Derby, Urban Sister Developments has now applied for planning permission to convert the upper floors of two historic buildings in the Wardwick as part of a £2.1m project to create 27 further student apartments.
Director Ruth Hobbs said: “There has never been a better time to invest in Derby and start developing. Prices are low but demand for high quality student rentals is booming. There are so many empty buildings in the city centre that are perfect for conversion. Post-COVID, that’s an unbelievable opportunity.”
Ruth and her sister Gillian Hobbs launched Urban Sister in 2018 with a mission to transform commercial buildings into new homes and help reinvigorate the city centre.
Their first commercial conversion, Urban Lofts, involved turning an empty office building in Lodge Lane into apartments for 18 students.
Their latest plans will bring the upper floors of two Grade II listed properties, covering around 8,000 square feet, back into use. The empty former offices will be converted into 17-bed and 10-bed student homes.
The company has said it wants the Government to make it easier for developers to bring more empty city centre buildings back into use by cracking down on landlords who leave properties vacant for long periods.
“In Derby city centre there are rows of properties that are empty but very few of those buildings are for sale. Pension funds have owned some of these places for years and don’t even know it.
“How can it be allowed? Builders are not allowed to land bank. Companies should not be able to bank empty properties,” said Ruth.
“We have millions of square feet of empty space in city centres where people want to live. We have to bring the people back to create the kinds of city centres we want – places where businesses can then also thrive.
“And if any city can do it, it’s Derby really.”
Derby City Council Leader Councillor Chris Poulter said increasing city living was a key plank of Derby’s economic recovery strategy following the COVID health crisis.
“Our city centre has been over-reliant on retail and hospitality – sectors which have been subject to structural change as well as suffering the economic impact of Coronavirus. We are determined to complement a great shopping and leisure offer with more homes and offices, creating a vibrant centre where people will want to work, live and relax.”
Urban Sister is the latest company to pledge to continue with planned developments in Derby, despite the economic downturn caused by Coronavirus.