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Former Airdrie department store site brought back to life as homes

North Lanarkshire Council entered into a legal agreement with Wilson Developments Ltd, the owners of the Orrs building in Airdrie town centre, to acquire 20 completed new build flats and two commercial units on the ground floor as part of the new supply programme. This agreement enabled the demolition and redevelopment of the former Orrs department store to proceed.

The former Orrs building, 68-78 South Bridge Street, is in a strategic location within Airdrie town centre and had been lying vacant for a number of years. The building was acquired in 2008 by Clyde Valley Housing Association (CVHA), but however due to a number of issues, the project was unable to progress.

The Council had considered the option of acquiring the site in 2017, using CPO Powers if required. CVHA, however, remarketed the site and attracted interest from one potential buyer – EDS (Turnkey) Limited. EDS acquired the site for a nominal sum from CVHA and transferred ownership of the Orrs building and a portion of land required for access that they own to Wilson Developments, who are delivering the re-development project. 

The developer had to revisit the original planning consent to improve the design of the flats in particular to ensure that they met our Housing for Varying Needs Standards. This required a revised planning application and further consultation with Historic Environment Scotland.

The cost of developing the site equates to £152,500 per residential unit and £150,000 for the commercial space. The market valuations provided by the District Valuer for completed units fall short of the construction costs which makes the site commercially unviable without support from the Council. The Council was willing to fund the additional development costs as it resulted in the development of an ugly gap site in the heart of Airdrie town centre.

The project will make a significant contribution to the regeneration of Airdrie town centre as well as helping to meet housing needs. It is worth noting that the project would not have proceeded if the Council had not taken it forward, as all other options had been exhausted. The only remaining option would have been for the Council to CPO the building, including the ground required for access, and redevelop the site itself. It was decided that this would likely take much longer and be more expensive than the current option of acquiring the completed units from the developer on a turnkey deal

 

Local policy backdrop

The Town Vision for Airdrie (Ironside Farrar Ltd.) was adopted in September 2021 and the Airdrie Town Action Plan in November 2023. 

Both of these documents actively promote the benefits of town centre living to the local economy in that encouraging the refurbishment of heritage assets and the redevelopment of vacant premises/sites offers the opportunity of additional footfall and spending power within the town centre, it helps to replace some of the activity and vibrancy lost through the structural changes in retailing which has resulted in a number of shop closures and vacant units within the town centre. 

The Airdrie Town Action Plan identifies a number of other properties within the town centre that could be refurbished from retail and commercial uses to residential use with the potential to create a further 90 residential properties in Airdrie town centre.

The two commercial units on the ground floor have been designed with open plan principles and are therefore flexible in there use. Additionally, these spaces have also been designed to ensure that if required they could be adjusted into residential properties in the future.

Triggering wider positive change

The promotion of town centre Living through the Town Vision for Airdrie (Sept 2021) was used to demonstrate that the community of Airdrie were supportive of the adaptive reuse of heritage properties to convert them to residential use.

This contributed to the award of £150,000 development funding and access to £2.65million in funding from Historic Environment Scotland and the National Lottery Heritage Fund in 2023 to repurpose, repair and improve a number of heritage properties for residential, commercial and community use in Airdrie town centre alongside a programme of community heritage activities.

The development of the Orrs Building on such a prominent site within the town centre has triggered interest in other privately owned sites in Airdrie and a number of owners have approached the Council to discuss their development proposals.

The developer, Wilson Developments Ltd, has identified similar vacant and derelict buildings in other town centres in North Lanarkshire where it is looking to continue its relationship with the Council to confirm lets of all or part of the refurbished properties to help de-risk the development and secure funding from lenders.

The Council has also identified a number of vacant properties across our eight town centres via a suite of Town Vision and Town Centre Action Plans which are suitable for residential refurbishment to promote town centre living.

The Orr’s building represents an exemplar of partnership working between the private sector and the Council. This type of joint venture between the Council and the private sector is seen as a key model for delivery of town centre living across North Lanarkshire including in Airdrie. The Council hopes that by taking the lead in the delivery of town centre living, we can make the case that there is a latent demand for good quality town centre houses and encourage the private sector to invest. 

The community were fully involved in the development of the Town Vision for Airdrie and the associated Town Action Plan for Airdrie via a series of public consultation and engagement events including drop-in sessions in the local library to allow the public to communicate directly with officers.