Government ministers have been urged not to scrap safeguards preventing offices and commercial space in four key London districts from being converted into homes without planning permission.
Last year the government relaxed planning laws to allow existing buildings to be converted without owners or developers having to seek approval from the local council – a process known as ‘permitted development’.
Following lobbying by Mayor Boris Johnson, ministers agreed to introduce a temporary exemption for central London, the Isle of Dogs, London’s Enterprise Zones in the Royal Docks, plus the part of the City Fringe in east London.
Last month all four parties on the London Assembly expressed concern that viable businesses in areas outside the exemption zones are being forced to relocate outside London or close down as building owners seek to cash in on the capital’s booming residential property market.
With the exemptions now set to expire, the Mayor has written to ministers warning that a failure to make them permanent would “damage London’s internationally important business locations”.
In a letter to local government Secretary Eric Pickles, Mr Johnson, business lobbyists London First, the British Property Federation and the Planning Officers Society London say that “incremental unplanned loss of office accommodation in strategically important office areas of London can significantly weaken the agglomeration benefits provided by these locations.”
The group also call for other “strategically important business locations across the country” be protected from the loss of important commercial space.
Mr Johnson said: “London is a colossal powerhouse of jobs and growth, and the motor of the UK economy. While increasing housing output is of vital importance, I am concerned that removing the exemption in our most thriving business districts could compromise both London and the UK’s future economic growth.
“London’s success depends on a rich mix of uses and more high value residential property in central London could upset this balance and change the area for good.”
Labour’s London Assembly Planning spokesperson, Nicky Gavron AM, said she was unimpressed by the Mayor’s intervention.
Ms Gavron said the government’s changes were “a bad policy for all of London not just parts of it” and dismissed the letter as “a weak move by the Mayor who obviously doesn’t think he’s got the clout to get what London needs.”
She added: “There is a huge amount at stake for London. Permitted development drives up the land value of employment space – even where property owners don’t convert, they will use it as a reason to increase rents, forcing businesses to close or to leave London.”