Offices to be turned into flats under £50m scheme

PRIVATE equity firm Consensus Capital is launching a £50 million fund to convert offices into social housing.

The Edinburgh-based investment firm, launched in 2010 by Mark Emlick, aims to work on 25 developments over the next two years, providing about 1,200 homes.

Consensus’s first project will begin next month in Perth, where the investor is turning a former office block at 1-3 Water Vennel into 18 flats for Caledonia Housing Association.

A second project, on Edinburgh’s Lochend Road, has also received planning permission and the firm is looking at sites in Glasgow, Birmingham, London and Manchester.

Andrew Montague, managing director of Consensus Capital’s property arm, said: “The £50m figure is the minimum we expect to invest. We won’t limit ourselves to that.”

Montague said the collapse in commercial property prices had created opportunities for his firm to buy unused office blocks.

He recognised that public sector cutbacks and a lack of bank lending in the property sector had put pressure on housing associations, allowing his company to develop 20-year “full repair and insurance leases” to allow social housing bodies to use its properties.

Consensus hopes its work will also help to revive city centres by bringing in more people to live and spend cash in urban locations.

Julie Cosgrove, chief executive of Caledonia Housing Association, said: “This project will help address two key local priorities: the regeneration of empty properties in Perth city centre and the provision of much-needed affordable housing in the city.”

Emlick sold his previous business – independent financial advice firm Dunedin Independent – to Zurich-based Helvetia Wealth in 2010 in a deal thought to be worth £4m.