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Councils blocking office-to-resi conversions

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A quarter of applications to turn offices into homes are being rejected by London councils

Data unearthed by property consultancy Daniel Watney shows that 25 per cent of the 457 ‘prior approval applications’ to convert office space into residential were refused in the three months to June 2014.

Changes to permitted development rights were rolled out in May 2013, allowing developers to convert commercial space to homes without seeking planning permission.

However developers are still obliged to seek ‘prior approval’ from planning authorities to ensure specified elements of the development are acceptable before work can proceed.

Of the 457 applications analysed by Watney, 56 per cent were granted, 25 per cent were refused and 19 per cent were deemed not to need prior approval. 

Councils with the highest rate of refusal included Redbridge, which refused 75 per cent of applications, Merton which refused 68 per cent, Newham which blocked 60 per cent and Westminster which refused 50 per cent of applications.

The changes in planning rules have been designed to utilise vacant office buildings as a new source for residential homes – especially in cities such as London where there is an acute housing shortage.

Since the rule change applications for up to 9,000 new homes from non-residential space have been lodged in London compared to 20,720 new home starts over the same period.

Prior approval applications can be refused if they fail to ‘adequately address transport and highway issues, contamination and flooding risk, with developers needing to ensure there is enough information submitted’.

Charles Mills, partner and head of planning at Daniel Watney, said: ‘Councils are still finding ways to refuse office to resi conversions and in some cases, with good reason. It could be due to developers supplying insufficient information or the development could have a seriously negative impact on the local area. 

‘But at the same time, we have a woeful undersupply of new homes and remodeling old buildings for new use is far more environmentally friendly than building them from scratch. Protecting office space is important where there’s a need, but it’s important councils avoid using this as a stick to play party politics with.’

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