Pickles announces office conversion flexibility
Eric Pickles has finally announced the on-off-on relaxation of conversion of commercial to residential use. The change is however restricted to changes from use class B1(a) (office use) to C3 - single household dwelling house.
Theere will be a prior approval process that would allow authorities to challenge some proposed conversions. And there will be the opportunity for local authorities to submit proposals for exceptions in specfiied geographical areas (the City of London has apparently already been exempted from the scheme).
The announcement raises many questions, though most of these are not directly relevant to empty homes practitioners. A useful source is a Planning magazine blog by Michael Donnelly.. He quotes Andy Black of consultancy PRP as follows:
1) It is clear that no formal change has actually come into a force yet. It would appear that Local Planning Authorities will have the opportunity to apply for exemption from the changes (as has already happened with the City of London). The announcement today does not make it clear on the process or timescales for these exemptions to take place.
2) It is unclear how will the provision of affordable housing be dealt with through the new PD rights? If no affordable housing is required as result of a change of use then this will have a dramatic effect on the economics of the land market and the supply of affordable housing in areas where it is most needed.
3) The same point applies to other planning requirements renewable energy, planning obligations, CIL, parking levels, amenity space, secured by design, lifetime homes, and provision of wheelchair accommodation. If these other rules are relaxed then this could lead to an increase in these proposals coming forward above more suitable and sustainable housing sites.
4) In the London context it is unclear to what effect the new homes provided through office to residential conversions be expected to comply with guidance such as the Mayor’s Housing SPG? This specifies minimum space standards, levels of amenity space and advises against provision of elements such as single aspect, north facing units.
5) We are unsure of the effect that this announcement will have on predicted levels of housing supply? If Council’s feel they can achieve housing numbers through office to residential conversion then there could be an increase in resistance and refusals for sustainable urban extensions and other windfall sites. How does this fit with the Government’s agenda for Garden Cities as advocated in the NPPF?
6) In order to successfully convert a office building to residential it is almost inevitable changes to the external appearance would be beneficial. Such changes would still require submission of a planning application”.
Points 2 and 3 of the above list are those that caused the most adverse reaction at the time of the initial consultation in 2011 and we can surmise that they will cause the most difficulty again amongst those that have more holistic concerns. Stimulating the economy and the provision of more housing are undoubtedly important in their own right. Moreover these relaxations offer the opportunity for banks to recover some value from redundant offices that are currently sitting as potential time-bombs in their lending portfolios, so loan finance might be available where otherwise it might not. But generating potentially hundreds of new homes in a limited built-up area without adequate planning controls is not nececssarily in the best long-term interests of local communities. The need for such a measure implies that conversions will go ahead in circumstances where p;reviously planning permission would have been denied, so it fundamentally undermines localism and the spatial planning system.
For some further interesting discussion on the measure refer to the Planning Advisory Service forum here:
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