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.

Urban Sister Developments has already successfully completed the Urban Lofts student accommodation scheme in Derby – winning a major UK property award in the process.

Now the company has 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.

And, despite the economic pressures caused by the coronavirus pandemic, director Ruth Hobbs believes the city is still a great place to invest and do business.

“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,” she said.

Ruth and her sister Gillian Hobbs launched Urban Sister in 2018 with a mission to transform commercial buildings into beautiful 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. The scheme was delivered to such a high standard that it won the Best HMO Deal, 2019, at the UK Property Investor Awards.

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 – again, with a focus on quality.

“We want to provide affordable living for students in well thought-through buildings, with beautiful interiors. We build accommodation that is good enough for our own kids to live in – in fact, my sister’s child is moving into one of our flats next month,” said Ruth.

Demand for their homes has been consistently high – underscoring their confidence in the Derby market.

The company does, however, want 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. Firms behind schemes worth more than £450m combined say they are confident in the city and will press ahead with their schemes.