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Latest planning reforms prompt new office-to-resi fears

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Proposed planning reforms will see vital employment space lost through conversion into housing, the government has been warned

At the end of July the Department for Communites and Local Government (DCLG) announced plans to make temporary rules allowing office space to be turned into homes without full planning permission a permanent fixture of the English planning system.

The measures also propose extending the same permitted-development rights to business-use classes such as warehouses and laundrettes.

Most controversially, ministers said the new rules would apply everywhere in the nation - removing exemptions that currently prevent permitted-development conversions across to a swathe of central London, and in parts of Hampshire, Hertfordshire and Kent.

Under questioning by London Assembly Member Nicky Gavron this week, London Mayor Boris Johnson said he was “likely to object” to the government’s proposals because of the need to protect the capital’s employment space.

‘We generally think this approach is wrong,’ he said.

‘We want councils to have the ability to veto this and to take their own decisions based on local needs.

‘In some cases it makes good sense for some boroughs to convert from office to residential in order to satisfy housing need.

‘But we also think that this can go too far and you can lose economic-activity space that is absolutely vital.’

Gavron, who is Labour’s London planning spokeswoman, said the government proposals posed a threat to the capital’s economic recovery.

‘Allowing property owners to convert offices, light industrial, and warehouses into flats without the need for planning permission is a reckless measure which sacrifices jobs,’ she said.

‘It results in the wrong types of and sub-standard housing in the wrong locations, and without any contribution of affordable housing or Section 106.

‘Permitted development drives up the land value of employment space – even where property owners don’t convert, they will use it as a reason to increase rents, forcing businesses to close or to leave London.’

As part of the reforms, DCLG has proposed introducing a new ‘tightly defined’ prior approval test to allow local planning authorities to ‘consider the potential loss of the most strategically important office accommodation’.

However the City of London Corporation is one authority that has expressed concern over the effect of the measures – and the practicality of any new powers to protect employment space.

In a report to elected members this month, it said the changes had ‘significant adverse implications’ for its status as a global financial and business centre.

It said research indicated that it could lose up to 18% of its office stock – enough to house 100,000 workers – if the measures were implemented.

The DCLG consultation is open until September 26.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • I'm not in favour of relinquishing control on change of use altogether but, with housing still in very short supply, proposals such as these have much to be said for them and many of our city centres will be improved if more people live in them. In the City of London consent for change of use, though allowable in theory, is still made very hard to achieve in practice, apparently in order that smaller firms can still find space there. Low rentals for small City offices suggest however that the City is seeking to protect something for which there is, in fact, little demand so the current controls should certainly be eased in this case.

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