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Government’s expansion of office-to-residential conversions risks “driving businesses out of London”

The Government’s intention to make permanent the relaxation of planning rules on the conversion of offices into residential properties will “rob London of much needed office space” Labour’s London Assembly Planning Spokesperson, Nicky Gavron AM, has said.

Whilst supporting measures to increase the supply of new homes in the capital Ms Gavron said that allowing the wholesale conversion of office space not only risked creating low quality housing but was also a threat to London’s economy.

In May 2013, Government introduced on a temporary three-year basis a permitted development right scheme, allowing property owners to convert offices into residential properties without the need for planning permission. The scheme is now expected to be made permanent after the Prime Minister’s Office announced the policy on its website.

The news comes a month after a report from London Councils found the capital has been particularly affected by the existing temporary relaxation, with at least 100,000 sq m of wholly occupied office floorspace, and 834,000 sq m of total office floorspace being earmarked for conversion between May 2013 and April 2015.

Commenting on the statement, Labour’s London Assembly Planning Spokesperson, Nicky Gavron AM said:

“Allowing property owners to convert offices into flats almost overnight without the need for planning permission is a reckless measure which sacrifices jobs. It results in the wrong types of homes in the wrong locations, and lets developers off the hook with no requirement to contribute any affordable housing. The converted housing does not have to meet affordability, environmental, or disability standards set by local authorities.

“The Government makes out that these are “disused” offices, but the reality is that developers are driving businesses out to make way for conversions. At least 322 fully occupied office spaces across London have been earmarked for conversion in just the two and a half years since the policy trial was introduced. Even where property owners don’t convert, they use the increased land value as a reason to drive up rents, forcing businesses to close or to leave London.

“Affordable workspace that start-ups and small businesses need to thrive will be hardest hit. Where will the Tech Cities of the future emerge?

“The Mayor boasts about his influence in Westminster but when the policy was first introduced he only managed some minor exemptions for a few parts of London. Now that he’s an MP, I hope he can do better this time around and secure an exemption for the whole of London before yet more businesses are forced to pay the price.”

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