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Fears over move to make office-to-resi rights permanent

  • 3 Comments

The government’s decision to make office–to-residential permitted development rights permanent has come under fire from the industry

Speaking ahead of the head of the publication of the new Housing and Planning Bill, prime minister David Cameron announced that the temporary rule to allow disused offices to be converted into homes which was introduced back in May 2013 will be extended indefinitely.

Since the change was introduced around 7,600 homes have been created from office space.

But the industry has raised concern that extending the scheme could lead to a ‘free for all’, provide poor quality housing, and the drive for homes could ‘rob London of much-needed office space.’

Ben Derbyshire, managing partner, HTA Design said: ‘The permitted development of office to residential use has unleashed a flood of very poor quality housing onto the market at the same time as creating a dire shortage of mid priced office space.’

Last month the British Council for Offices (BCO), launched a hard-hitting report condemning the planning relaxation for creating poorly designed homes and for reducing the amount of vital commercial space available (see AJ 11.09.15).

Responding to the new extension, The BCO’s chief executive Richard Kauntze said: ‘[We] re-iterate the vital need to avoid a free-for-all.

‘When we released research earlier this year which showed that 56,000m² of office space was converted to residential in England in 2014, we argued that it was time to take stock and consider the impact of the permitted development right. While [it] can certainly contribute towards much needed housing, a cautious approach is required.’

Labour’s London Assembly planning spokesperson Nicky Gavron, added: ‘Allowing property owners to convert offices into flats almost overnight without the need for planning permission is a reckless measure which sacrifices jobs.

‘It results in the wrong types of homes in the wrong locations, and lets developers off the hook with no requirement to contribute any affordable housing. The converted housing does not have to meet affordability, environmental, or disability standards set by local authorities.’

Gavron also raised concern that it is not just disused offices that are being transformed but that businesses are being driven out to make way for the conversions.

‘At least 322 fully occupied office spaces across London have been earmarked for conversion in just the two and a half years since the policy trial was introduced. Even where property owners don’t convert, they use the increased land value as a reason to drive up rents, forcing businesses to close or to leave London’, she said.

Chief executive of the TCPA Kate Henderson, added: ‘The decision to extend permitted development from office to residential seriously undermines the ability to create decent homes in vibrant communities.’

‘The Government says it is committed to localism and that it wants planning to give power to local communities. However, today’s announcements mean that local communities will have even less say over how their neighbourhoods are developed.’

Further comments

Brandon Lewis, housing and planning minister
‘We’re determined that, both in Whitehall and in town halls, everything is done to get the homes we need built. Today’s measures will mean we can tap into the potential of underused buildings to offer new homes for first-time buyers and families long into the future, breathing new life into neighbourhoods and at the same time protecting our precious green belt.’

Charles Mills, partner and head of planning at Daniel Watney
“Permanently relaxing permitted development rights for office-to-residential conversions will most likely give house building a boost, but it is important to protect employment space as well. Cities with lots of homes but nowhere to work are just as problematic as ones with lots of offices but nowhere to live.
‘There is a danger these latest changes will see yet more disputes between councils and central government, at a time when they should be working together to deliver the homes and jobs Britain needs.’

Hugh Ellis, head of policy, TCPA
‘Today’s announcement marks a major deregulation of local planning and the loss of community control over large parts of the urban environment.  It is worrying that this has come at a time when we know we need smart green cities that can deal with climate change and provide healthy environments for ordinary people. These announcements are a missed opportunity to ensure we create high quality, successful and climate-resilient places.’

Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London [spokesman]
‘The publication of the Housing Bill is an important milestone and the Mayor welcomes the government’s continued commitment to increasing homeownership. 

‘The Mayor has been very clear that the most significant threat to London’s economy is the under supply of homes. City Hall is now carefully considering the contents of the bill and how it can be strengthened to boost supply in the capital. The Mayor will continue to argue for all proceeds from the sale of high value London council and housing association properties be invested back into the city to deliver much needed new homes.’

Ben Derbyshire, managing partner, HTA Design
‘The permitted development of office to residential use has unleashed a flood of very poor quality housing onto the market at the same time as creating a dire shortage of mid priced office space. Many architects, HTA included, now find it increasingly difficult to find affordable office space especially in London.

‘If the treasury is held bent on de-regulating the planning system it should at the same time arm consumers with adequate information about the homes they can rent or buy as a result. 

‘We worry that the planning system generally is moving away from definitions of quality that the public and local people can use as a measure of what good looks like.’ 

 

  • 3 Comments

Readers' comments (3)

  • The ONLY reason office space has been converted to residential is because the planning system has failed to deliver enough homes to keep pace with a growing population. If the system keeps on failing, then it seems entirely MORAL to let homes be created where we can. I wager very few office jobs have been lost by this deregulation. Businesses move to cheaper space, or cheaper cities where they replace or create new jobs. It took the Isle of Dogs enterprise zone to create the office supply conditions in London that have kept office costs low. But now there are 2.5m more people living in London than in 1980, we are hitting the buffers on supply. Economic recovery is driving office rents up and supply is getting low. Now, do you think the planning system will approve more flexible office space in enough quantities? I doubt it very much. Deregulation appears to be - almost - the only way to get anything built in this town when it might actually be needed. And if we relied on 'community control' to get the houses and workspace London needed, the city's economy would be stuffed.
    So can Nicky Gavron tell us a) how many homes have not been built because of affordable housing taxes on developers, and b) how many jobs have been lost through office conversions?

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  • Michael Bach

    Lee, you are very mixed up and cannot be bothered by the facts.

    The planning system in London has been delivering the permissions sought by the development industry, but it cannot make them build the housing. There are currently permission for some 270,000 homes which developers are just sitting. The planning system is not stopping these being built, including the redevelopment and conversion of secondary offices no longer suitable for offices. Before the Government's intervention the planning system was delivering up to 4,000 units a year from this source. The PD rights to turn any offices - whether vacant or occupied - has not yet produced much additional supply in London, but it has led to speculative emptying of office space, especially space for small businesses.

    You acknowledge that we need more office space. Indeed the Government - with their "planning" hat on - requires local authorities to plan for the "objectively assessed need" for offices. Meanwhile they are encouraging change of use to housing - a one-way trip - which has significantly reduced the supply to extremely low vacancy rates in some parts of London. The latest change, apart from those areas that will keep their exemption until 2019, will further reduce the supply of office space. Since the NPPF proposes that offices should be in town centres or close to public transport interchanges, how will we get replacement space let alone new offices if we we unpack our town centres.

    A free-for-all to turn everything into housing is bad news! We do need to build more housing. Why not ask the question "why are house builders not building enough housing"?

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  • To remove any control on converting existing offices to residential is a dangerous free for all. The objections are well founded. Those were the days when developers wanted to convert residential to offices! However the reuse of obsolete office buildings and conversion into residential is a policy to be encouraged. The answer? Planning control over these conversions should remain with local authorities who know the longer term needs of there locality but planning law should be amended to make it clear that there is a presumption in favour of conversion to residential. Owen Luder PPRIBA

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