New research has shown that one out of every four requests to convert offices in residential spaces is being blocked by councils across London.
Daniel Watney is a planning firm which has recently accumulated figures on the latest government move to relax laws on office-to-residential conversions. The firm has discovered that 457 prior approval applications for conversions of this kind have been made across London in the three months to June 2014. Over half of these were accepted and processed, nearly 20% were deemed as no need to approval, however a quarter (25%) of these applications has been refused.
Barking & Dagenham, Bexley and Enfield were among the few councils to approve all of their applications, however Redbridge Council were the ones to refuse the most requests. September 2014 saw the Department for Communities and Local Government release figures that nearly 2,000 applications had been received in the UK. These had so far had a 47% approval rates, as 900 has been granted.
The very high level of office-to-residential conversion blockings is extremely concerning, noted a spokesperson from Daniel Watney.
Partner and head of planning at the company, Charles Mills, addresses the councils' efforts to deny conversions from office to residential property.
Mills states his support for the action of the councils' and notes the neccesity of the action in cased where developers are "supplying insufficient information or the development could have a negative impact on the local area".
However, Mills goes on to conceded that there is a "woeful under-supply of new homes" and that the method of "remodelling old buildings for new use is far more environmentally friendly than building them from scratch.”
There is a prevalent worry that by converting too many offices to residential units may result in a decreased availability of office space.
Expanding on this concern, Mills states his belief in the protection of commercial space when neccesary, however feels that "it’s important councils avoid using this as a stick to play party politics with.”
The relaxation in the commercial property law has been around since May 2013. Since changes have been made to permitted development rights, planning permission has been unnecessary for developers seeking to create residential spaces out of office blocks.
Prior approval must be obtained before work begins, which the government outlines as “approval from the local planning authority that specified elements of the development are acceptable”.
Refusals can be made on the basis that prior approval applications fail to consider transport issues, flooding or contamination risk; developers must ensure enough information is provided to councils to avoid the situation of a refusal.