London Councils seeks clarification on ‘office-to-residential’

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The widespread conversion of office space to homes is harming London’s town centres and government must clarify its position on further changes to planning regulations, boroughs are warning.

Permitted development rights (often referred to as ‘office-to-residential’) were introduced in May 2013 to fast-track the conversion of offices to homes, but can result in sub-standard housing and undermine new jobs and economic growth – according to London Councils, which represents the city’s 33 local authorities.

The rights, which allow developers to bypass existing planning regulations, are due to expire in May 2016. However, the government has indicated they might be extended and that current exemptions – including Canary Wharf and east London’s Tech City – may be removed.

Cllr Claire Kober, London Councils’ Executive member for infrastructure and regeneration, said: “The negative impact of permitted development rights in London is stark and we urge central government to clarify its position on making these rights permanent and removing existing exemptions for central London and many town centres.

“Permitted development rights prevent boroughs insisting on an affordable housing quota meaning that much-needed low-cost homes for rent or ownership agreed through the planning process will not be delivered. We urgently need more homes but a planning free-for-all is not the answer.

“Under this scheme thousands of square metres of office space has already been lost, displacing jobs and threatening the viability of economic centres. It is very difficult to support jobs and growth without suitable commercial property and the loss of this kind of accommodation has a knock-on effect on community amenities such as GP’s surgeries and dentists.”

The full report can be downloaded here.


Notes to Editor

-    Permitted development rights allow developers converting office space to homes to make ‘prior approval’ applications, a light-touch regulation system which means local authorities can only consider the impact on transport and highways, contamination and flooding – and may not seek the enforcement of minimum space standards or affordable housing contributions, for example.
-    The government has suggested local authorities may use ‘Article 4’ directions to suspend permitted development rights. However, in practice, this is a cumbersome tool for boroughs which is not appropriate in all cases.

Key figures

-    A total of 834,000 sq m of office floorspace has been lost as a result of permitted development rights.
-    At least 2,639 office-to-residential prior approval applications were received by London boroughs between May 2013 and April 2105. 
-    Approval has been granted for at least 16,600 new dwellings through office-to-residential permitted development rights since May 2013.
-    The briefing contains a set of case studies from London boroughs adversely affected by permitted development rights.