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Relaxed Planning Laws... Redundant Offices Transformed into Homes

Relaxed Planning Laws... New Policy

On 24 January, 2013, Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communications and Local Government, together with Nick Boles MP, published a new policy of relaxed planning laws to allow empty offices to be converted into flats without planning permission. Mr Pickles explained that the new development rights allow change of use from B1(a) office to C3 residential and that the system would be reviewed after three years to ascertain the future of the changes. The aim is to ease the national housing shortage and to help regenerate town centres and former commercial areas.

The Relaxed Planning Laws also Apply to Agricultural Buildings

Redundant agricultural buildings could also be converted into restaurants, shops, offices and leisure centres under the reform, creating new jobs and businesses to boost the rural economy.

It was also understood in the original proposal for the relaxed planning laws, that this change of use could potentially damage economic activity. As a result of these concerns, local authorities had the right to seek an exemption if they could claim a significant loss of economic activity, or show adverse consequences at the local authority level. The need to preserve office space to entice businesses and investments were reasons to request an exemption.

Local Authorities Exempt from the Relaxed Planning Laws

Following a thorough assessment, Mr Pickles announced in a written statement on the 9th of May that only 17 local authorities would be exempt from the relaxed planning laws, with six outside of London. These were: Manchester City Council; Ashford (Kent), Vale of the White Horse and Stevenage borough councils; Sevenoaks and East Hampshire district councils. The London authorities are the Boroughs of Westminster, Wandsworth, Tower Hamlets, Southwark, Newham, Lambeth, Kensington and Chelsea, Islington, Hackney and Camden, together with the City of London.


Could the New Legislation Affect Availability of Office Space

There is concern amongst critics that the new rules could adversely affect the availability of office space, particularly in residential areas of high value where office space would be profitably converted to housing. Comments have also been made that allowing offices to become homes could drive shoppers away from the high street and into retail complexes away from the town centres.

Moreover, in some cases planning permission would have to be obtained for the more extensive additional works needed to complete conversion from B1(a) to C3 status. In cases where planning permission is not required, there is the issue that local planning authorities will not be able to secure the additional finance required to invest in the appropriate social infrastructure needed to support the new residences. 

Written by Marc Dewdney of Circle Square  - Finance Jobs London


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