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Office-to-resi work stalling due to government indecision, says architect

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An architect has urged the government to make its mind up on whether it will extend powers for developers to convert offices to homes without planning permissions

In May next year, a temporary permitted development right for such conversions will come to an end, and the government has not yet announced whether the move will be extended or made permanent.

Simon Hansard, director of Ashby Design, said that delaying a decision would hit the architecture industry.

‘In South East England permitted development rights have provided a sizeable chunk of work for the housing supply chain over the past couple of years,’ he said.

‘However, with the legislation requiring premises to be occupied by May next year and there no announcement from the government what will happen after May, all of this work has now dried up.’

Last year, the government announced a consultation on making the move permanent, but announced in March that the idea needed further consideration.

Its explained its hesitation by citing responses to the consultation which voiced ‘concern on the future availability of business premises, the impact on surrounding businesses and the quality of the new dwellings’.

A briefing released last month by the London Forum of Amenity and Civic Societies called on the government to abandon the policy completely.

It said: ‘The policy relies on there being a strong market – in areas of the country with large amounts of vacant offices and no real housing market nothing has happened.

‘By contrast, in areas with a high differential between housing values and office values and high office occupancy rates/low vacancy rates, the market has stripped out well-located offices for conversion, often in town centres, leaving an ever tighter market for offices and higher rents for those that remain.’

The policy is opposed by London mayor Boris Johnson, London boroughs and large swathes of the property industry including the British Property Federation.

But Hansard said: ‘Considering the need for all levels of housing in this country, be it private, affordable or social, and the fact we have a lot of offices standing empty, it’s surprising that the government hasn’t addressed this one way or another.’

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: ‘We are considering whether to make changes to or extend rights for the right to change of use from office to residential buildings. In doing so, we recognise the importance of protecting key strategic economic areas. We will make an announcement in due course.’

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Readers' comments (1)

  • For the second time in 3 years we are having to move an office of 30 people due to permitted development. Our current building is just not suitable for flats with 3 sides having a 2m views to another building. There is no alternative offices in the area and we are having to move to an area where our rent will more than double.

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