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320 Occupied Offices Removed Over Planning Rules

Figures published this week have confirmed that under controversial eased planning rules, developers have obtained approval to convert over 300 occupied London offices into residential units.

London Councils published a report showing that, according to Greater London Authority data, at least 2,639 prior approval applications for office-to-residential conversions were received between May 2013 and April 2015.

The data revealed that at least 16,600 new residences were included in approved office-to-residential prior approval applications.

The figures also show, however, that prior approval has been given for applications to convert around 322 occupied office spaces across the capital. They constitute approximately 39% of those approvals for which occupancy information is available.

The report states that 1,232 prior approvals have office floor space data available. These schemes will absorb floor space totalling 834,000 square metres.

London Councils is requesting the UK government to confirm its stance on the temporary permitted development right, which is presently scheduled to expire in May 2016. There are concerns that current exemptions, such as East London’s Tech City and Canary Wharf, may be removed.

The British Council for Offices (BCO) published a separate study indicating that the office-to-residential permitted development right has resulted in an estimated 550,000 square metres of English office space being converted into residential use last year.

The BCO report stated that office-to-residential conversions are proceeding at a faster rate than ever, especially in London. Research confirmed that the permitted development right was slowing down the growth effect of office stock, as any new office development has to both replace space lost to conversion as well as provide new offices.

The BCO study, which was conducted by property firm CBRE, confirmed that significant numbers of office to residential approvals have been put into effect: approximately 50% outside London and 25% within the city limits.

Planning minister Brandon Lewis said that the government will make an announcement on the future of the permitted development right soon.

Claire Kober, executive member for infrastructure and regeneration for London Councils, said that under this scheme, there has been a substantial loss of office space, displacing jobs and compromising the viability of economic hubs.


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Ms Kober said that it is extremely difficult to support employment conditions and growth without commercial property to sustain them, and losing office space has a domino effect on community services such as dentists and GP surgeries.

This week London Assembly members agreed unanimously on a motion stating that no effort should be made to extend the office-to-residential permitted development right beyond the scheduled May 2016 expiry.

Stephen Knight, the Lib Dem assembly member who proposed the motion, explained that London needs more housing opportunities, but the permitted development policy is not the answer. The last thing the city needs is rising property costs and reduced opportunities for jobs and new businesses.

In 2014, an investigation revealed that between May 2013 and July 2014, London boroughs received over 2,000 prior approval applications for office-to-residential conversions.


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