Mayor Boris Johnson has been accused of “ignoring” the consequences of a Government decision to permanently allow offices and commercial space to be converted into homes without planning permission.
Two years ago ministers relaxed planning laws to allow existing buildings to be converted without developers having to seek approval from the local council – a process known as ‘permitted development’.
All four parties on the London Assembly have expressed concern that the rule change is forcing viable businesses to relocate outside London or close down as building owners seek to cash in on the capital’s booming residential property market.
There have also been complaints that removing the need to obtain planning permission means councils are unable to levy financial contributions on developers to pay for any transport links and amenities needed to support new residents, leaving council tax payers to foot the bill instead.
Following lobbying by Mr Johnson and business leaders, ministers introduced temporary exemptions from the rules for central London, the Isle of Dogs, London’s Enterprise Zones in the Royal Docks, plus part of the City Fringe in east London.
Yesterday Housing minister Brandon Lewis confirmed that the new rules would become permanent, claiming they had already allowed 4,000 conversions to go-ahead.
Mr Lewis said extending the rules would “tap into the potential of underused buildings to offer new homes for first-time buyers and families long into the future, breathing new life into neighbourhoods and at the same time protecting our precious green belt.”
However he acknowledged the concerns raised by Mr Johnson and others by announcing that councils in the former exemption zones could apply for powers to continue granting planning consent for all office to home conversations.
Mr Johnson welcomed the concession, saying: “Removing the planning exemption in those areas would have put the future economic growth of this city at risk, but by agreeing to amend their proposals the Government are ensuring we will be able to maintain the full stock of quality office space required for our city to continue to prosper.”
Liberal Democrats on the Assembly say they’re “shocked at the Mayor of London’s enthusiastic support for these changes” which they claim will “force businesses out of London’s many town centres, especially in outer London.”
The party’s economic spokesperson, Stephen Knight, said: “The big picture that the Mayor is ignoring is that permitted development rights are now being made permanent, when instead the whole policy should have been stopped.
“London needs more homes but this policy is certainly not the answer. Driving up the cost of property and reducing opportunities for new businesses and jobs is the last thing the capital needs.”
Green party Assembly Member Kenny Jones said the Mayor had “failed to secure any protections outside of central London, leaving small businesses everywhere else to put up with it or leave”.
She added: “This is a threat to all kinds of small businesses and jobs. It could destroy the network of vital trades and services that London’s rich cultural life depends upon.”
Labour’s Nicky Gavron AM commented: ““The Government makes out that these are “disused” offices, but the reality is that developers are driving businesses out to make way for conversions. At least 322 fully occupied office spaces across London have been earmarked for conversion in just the two and a half years since the policy trial was introduced. Even where property owners don’t convert, they use the increased land value as a reason to drive up rents, forcing businesses to close or to leave London.”