The threat of losing office space that jobs rely on – including up to a quarter of central London’s premises – has ensured continued opposition to the government’s move to allow developers to convert offices large and small into flats without planning permission.
That’s why, as chair of the London Assembly Planning Committee, I wrote to Secretary of State Eric Pickles on Tuesday, asking him to reconsider the proposal.
At the Committee’s March meeting , we heard that granting office-to-residential permitted development rights will usher in a free-for-all of unmanaged conversions, with local councils and local people losing all control over which office space is lost and where it’s lost from. A range of experts expressed alarm at the threat to jobs, particularly in start-ups and SMEs that rely on the sort of marginal premises that will become most at risk of conversion. To add to our consternation, we were told that the planning system already includes the tools councils need to allow offices to be converted to residential.
Faced with the prospect of London’s economy suffering a serious blow from government policy, the Committee drafted a letter to Pickles, urging him to reconsider the proposal. The Committee isn’t opposed to coverting offices to residential – in fact, in some cases doing so could be just what town centres need. The problem is that this proposal, known widely as ‘change of use’, undermines the plan-led system, and instead turns the built environment over to the whims of developers who are motivated not by need but by profit.