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DCLG planning reforms prompt office-to-home fears

DCLG planning reforms prompt office-to-home fears

Toward the end of July, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) proposed a series of reforms to planning laws, which would see temporary laws allowing office space to be transformed into housing without the need for full planning permission made permanent. The measures would also extend permitted-development rights to business-use classes such as warehouses and laundrettes, and will apply across the country – with central London, and parts of Hampshire, Hertfordshire and Kent no longer enjoying an exemption to the rules.

Mayor Johnson: “Need to protect London’s industrial space”

Speaking in the London Assembly, Mayor Boris Johnson revealed that he is “likely to object” to the reforms. Parties on the Assembly have warned that hundreds of jobs are at risk from the changes, with one borough reported to have already lost 20% of its office space. Mr Johnson stated: “I support a number of changes the Government is making to the wider planning system but I’m likely to object to this proposal. We need to protect London’s industrial space”.

His “vigorous” objections were shared by Assembly member and former deputy mayor to Ken Livingstone, Nicky Gavron, who described the proposals as “a huge threat to London’s economic recovery”. Ms Gavron, Labour’s London planning spokeswoman, went on to comment that “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. 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″.

Ms Gavron added that “What is at stake is every single office space and warehouse, big or small”, and was backed up by Labour colleague Andrew Dismore, who called the impact of the proposals “horrendous”. Conservative member Tony Arbour said “The Government was seeking a quick fix to the housing crisis but didn’t think through the huge unintended consequences”.

London boroughs push back against plans

The City of London Corporation has pushed back against the proposals, reporting to its elected members that the alterations to existing law carried “significant adverse implications” for its standing as a global financial and business powerhouse. It warned that, should the measures be fully implemented, up to 18% of its office stock – enough for 100,000 workers – would be placed at risk.

Islington LBC has successfully challenged the conversions policy, after arguing that essential employment space was being lost. It will now be able to require planning permission for office conversions in six parts of the borough, because the DCLG made an error in the calculations used to justify its rejection of an “article 4 direction” to disapply the policy.

James Murray, Islington’s executive member for housing and development, said “The government’s initial decision to block us was wrong, and we were right to challenge it. We have said from day one that the government’s office-to-flats policy is having a detrimental effect on Islington and, in fact, right across London. The extremely high value of flats in Islington meant that small businesses and charities were being evicted”.

Housing minister Brandon Lewis said only that “With more mobile modern-day working practices, and housing being in such demand, it makes sense to allow the free market to create new homes on brownfield land”.

The DCLG consultation on the changes is open until September 26th.

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