Sadiq Khan has been urged to lobby the government to scrap its controversial policy allowing offices to be converted into homes without planning permission
In a critical report, the London Assembly argues that if permitted development rights (PDR) are not halted, the government will be ‘condemning tens of thousands more Londoners to living in miserable conditions’.
To date the government has ignored criticism of the policy and is planning to extend its scope.
The report found a ‘huge proportion’ of homes flouted minimum-space standards. A massive 80 per cent of properties in PDR hotspot Croydon were below the standard, with one flat in the borough measuring just 10m² (see plan below).
‘Such units often have few and small windows, no outdoor space, no storage space, and no play space outdoors,’ the report read.
Unlike other developers, those converting offices into homes are not required to include any affordable provision. The report argued that, as a result, London has missed out on 5,504 affordable homes.
It revealed that of 15,929 homes built through these types of conversions since 2013, only 71 were affordable – accounting for just 0.4 per cent.
London Assembly member Tom Copley, who wrote the report, said: ‘This cannot carry on. We need to solve the national housing crisis, but subjecting London families to cramped, substandard and unaffordable homes is not the way to do it.
‘Some may call them “rabbit hutches” or others “micro-homes”, but we must be clear about what we are building when we allow masses of permitted development conversions: the slums of the future.’
In response, a spokesperson for the mayor said the evidence suggested PDR conversions could result in ‘poor quality overcrowded accommodation, with serious impacts on the health and safety of residents’.
They added: ‘What’s more, losing office space in London’s town centres can have a negative impact on local economies.
‘Sadiq’s recent response to the government’s consultation on planning reform outlined his serious concerns about plans to extend permitted development rights, and we continue to lobby the government on these issues.’
The report contained a number of case studies from London boroughs, including Urban House in Croydon, which contains four of ’the smallest permitted development flats in London’.
Other examples included a scheme in Hounslow where the council tried to refuse a prior approval application to turn the building into 80 flats as the units were too small, but the developer successfully appealed.
According to the report, there are now 95 flats in the building, all smaller than the minimum requirement for a studio (37m²) and many with foldable beds that lift to the ceiling.
Copley said that if the government refused to scrap permitted development, developers should be required to include affordable housing and conform to minimum space standards.
The report, titled Slums of the Future – Permitted Development Conversions in London, is the latest in a series of critical reports on the PDR planning loophole.
In 2018 RICS research showed how office-to-residential conversions were producing ‘extremely poor-quality’ housing, with just 30 per cent of units meeting national space standards.
Earlier this year, the AJ uncovered an office conversion in south London described by Levitt Bernstein’s Julia Park as the ’clearest example’ of how PDR is being exploited by developers.
The concern over what has been described as ’slum housing’ has led RIBA president Ben Derbyshire to call on architects to boycott commissions arising from the controversial policy.
However, while criticism has mounted, the government is instead trying to roll out the policy further and is continuing to consider a permitted development allowing entire offices to be demolished and rebuilt as housing, without planning permission.