Office to Resi – Simon Kibble comments in Property Week

Office-to-residential conversions have seen eviction notices served on at least 200 businesses and charities, a Local Government Association survey has found.
Permitted development rights, which the government wants to make permanent, were introduced in May last year to allow offices to be turned into residential properties without planning permission.
The LGA said the new planning laws had seen vacant offices brought back into use in some areas but the majority of applications in others, had seen occupied offices turned into flats.
The survey completed by 93 councils’ planning services heads in England during the summer found that nearly half said that 50%-100% prior approvals involved office space that was either partially or fully occupied.
Examples included the London borough of Barnet where more than 100 small businesses and charities were given four to six week’s notice to leave and Islington, north London, where 71 office buildings have already obtained prior approval for conversion since the law changed, with a further 11 applications submitted.
More than 40 small businesses in the Willow Lane Industrial Estate, in Mitcham, Surrey, were told they had to leave by September 7.
Peter Box, chair of the LGA’s economy, environment, housing and transport board, said: “What was meant to provide a new lease of life for empty offices has, in reality, seen organisations kicked out of their premises so landlords can cash in on the higher rents they can charge for flats and houses.
“High streets and communities have been changed with no consultation of those living and working in them. Councils have told us permitted development rights have meant that not only is there less office space available, there is also less of the vital infrastructure we need too.”
Cllr Box said the plans flew in the face of localism adding further confusion to the planning system and undermined the premise of a local plan-led system.
Simon Kibble, director of Frost Meadowcroft, commented: “The permitted development initiative was concieved to stimulate the economy, reduce the number of ‘underused’ or ‘vacant’ buildings and provide much needed housing stock. But in London where there is a shortage of offices, businesses are being forced out of perfectly viable offices as developer cash in on significantly higher residential values.”
Source: Property Week 8 October 2014