A LANDMARK office building in Cowley is to be transformed into a major residential development.

Broadfield House in Between Towns Road was once the headquarters of the Potato Marketing Board and most recently home to 200 staff from publisher Macmillan Education who moved to a new London base in 2012.

Now work has started on a £4.5m project to transform the 27,882 sq ft property into 58 mainly one-bedroom apartments after it was sold to Thomas Homes.

The move has not needed planning permission as it is the latest commercial property being fast-tracked for residential use under the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development Order) Act, which became effective last year.

Thomas Homes director Chris Brotherton said: “What we are aiming at is the entry level of the Oxford market.

“Prices are so high and we have been trying to find a development where we can get people on the housing ladder.”

However, the new law on commercial conversions also means the development will bypass the normal requirement for 50 per cent of new home sites to be social housing.

Mr Brotherton added: “If we had to have affordable housing then it would not have been viable.

“We are able to offer schemes such as the Government’s Help to Buy.

“There is massive demand for single occupancy housing in the city and it brings empty office buildings into another use.”

Work on the development, next to Templars Square shopping centre, has started and will be complete by the first quarter of next year.

Prices have not yet been set but Mr Brotherton said they would be between £150,000 and £200,000. Potential buyers will be able to buy off-plan from March this year.

Parking will be retained and Mr Brotherton said traffic movements will be lower under residential use.

Other properties set to be converted include offices in New Inn Hall Street, Oxford, while 1-20 Lakesmere Close in Kidlington is set to be converted into 18 houses and four apartments.

Richard Venables, director at VSL and Partners, Kidlington, said: “There is a significant surge in commercial to residential activity in Oxfordshire following the ‘permitted development rights’ introduced in May last year.

Oxford Mail:

Richard Venables

“We calculate that approximately 80,000 sq ft of secondary offices have applied for approval for conversion to residential in the Oxford area.

“Whilst reducing potential office stock, all of these buildings are either obsolete or in poor locations and unlikely to have let in the near to medium term.”

The law has partly been responsible for the supply of office accommodation dwindling from 400,000 sq ft to 300,000 sq ft in the last year.

Nick Berrill, director of business space at agents Savills, said: “There is now a real shortage of Grade A space in Oxford, an example being Oxford Science Park where there is no office space currently available.”