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London councils challenge office-to-resi

A quartet of London councils has been granted a judicial review to challenge the new office-to-resi permitted development rules

Islington, Camden, Richmond and Lambeth councils will now take their battle to the High Court in a bid to overturn the government’s recent policy decision which allows offices to be converted into flats without planning permission.

The authorities are arguing they have lost the ability to protect work space in the borough and that the new rules mean they cannot demand that the new homes are either affordable or meet basic space standards.

The challenge is being led by Islington Council, with Camden, Richmond, Tower Hamlets, Ealing and Sutton supporting them. Lambeth Council will be raising a separate action to be heard in the High Court at the same time.

Lambeth Council began judicial review proceedings against the permitted development rules back in August, calling for Brixton town centre, Streatham town centre and the borough’s key industrial business areas to be exempt from the relaxed planning rules.

The councils are arguing that rules which allowed some councils to opt out of the changes are unlawful. Back in May, the government announced the 17 councils which had been successful in securing exemption for all or part of their boroughs from the controversial changes.

Islington Council’s executive member for housing and development, James Murray, said: ‘The government’s changes to the planning laws are already having a detrimental effect on London boroughs.

‘In Islington we have firm plans for building good quality, affordable housing. But the government’s changes are undermining what we’re trying to do by allowing developers to bypass these plans in a reckless free-for-all.’

Archway Tower is on the verge of having a large number of small, sub-standard bedsits squashed into it

He added: ‘The change to the law means that any office space can be converted into poor quality private homes with no affordable housing. There’s a real danger that small offices across the borough will be lost to private housing, and tower blocks will have as many flats as possible crammed into them. Developers {essential Living with architects GRID] have already begun to exploit this, with the iconic Archway Tower on the verge of having a large number of small, sub-standard bedsits squashed into it, with no affordable housing at all.’

In Islington the planning changes have resulted in the loss of 17,000m² of office floor-space, while Richmond has seen the most applications for change of use from office-to-resi – more than 100.

Freddie Gick, chair of Civic Voice, welcomed the ruling. He said: I’m pleased to hear that these four councils have been granted leave to bring this case. We were against this policy from the start due to it undermining the local voice of communities and local government. We opposed this change when it was introduced and hope this decision may lead to a change in policy.

We hope this decision may lead to a change in policy

‘We are not against the buildings being converted from office to residential, but we do believe it should be done via the normal planning process, not permitted rights.’

The challenge will be heard in the high court on 4 December.

Previous story (19.08.13)

Lambeth Council launches judicial review over office-to-resi

Lambeth Council has become the second London borough to launch a legal challenge against the new office-to-resi permitted development rules.

The council has begun judicial review procedures against communities secretary Eric Pickles in a bid to overturn the contentious planning shake-up.

The south London authority called for Brixton town centre, Streatham town centre, and the borough’s key industrial business areas to be exempt from the relaxed planning rules, raising concerns that turning offices into flats in these areas could harm the local economy.

Pete Robbins, Lambeth cabinet member for housing and regeneration, said: ‘Landlords in Brixton and Streatham have been handed a free reign to turn offices into flats – it’s simply unacceptable.

‘The new regulations could harm trade in these key areas and raise the prospect of job losses, lost business rates and reduced funding for infrastructure.’

The council has also criticised the lack of transparency around deciding the handful of areas which were granted exemption from the changes.

Robbins added: ‘Based on the information provided, it is impossible to understand how the Government could have exempted residential areas in places such as Kensington and Chelsea, while ignoring the value to our local economy of Brixton and Streatham.’

Back in May, the government announced the 17 councils which had been successful in securing exemption for all or part of their boroughs from the controversial changes.

Lambeth was unsuccessful in its bid for 31 areas, including Brixton and Streatham to be granted exemption.

Last month, the London Borough of Islington also applied for a judicial review to overturn office-to-resi permitted development rights.

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