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.’
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.’