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The mayor of London has said he will consider measures to prevent business space being converted to flats, as new data showed the growth of “office-to-residential” conversions in the capital.
Sadiq Khan, who was elected a month ago, said he was worried about the effect of government policy that allows offices to be turned into homes without a planning application.
“There clearly needs to be more control over where office space can be converted to residential use,” he said.
He plans to tighten the rules in the London Plan, a citywide planning rule book, and lobby the government to change its policy.
City Hall said that in the three years to April, approval to convert 1.5m square feet of office space to homes was obtained in London. Two-fifths of the space was fully occupied and a further fifth was part-occupied.
“Of course we need new homes, but this does not need to be at the expense of the space we need for the businesses that provide our jobs and drive our prosperity,” said Mr Khan.
The Federation of Small Business said the availability of business space was one of the biggest challenges facing its members. “This was the central issue facing members in the run-up to the election and we are glad that the Mayor has listened to their concerns early,” it said.
But the government rejected the mayor’s criticism, pointing out that much of the space was vacant and could be put to better use as housing.
A spokesman for the Department of Communities and Local Government said: “This government makes no apology for delivering the homes this country desperately needs. These figures show that almost half of this office space is vacant, so it could be better used as homes for hard-working Londoners.”
Office-to-residential conversions are also controversial because adapting a building intended for business use can sometimes result in poor quality homes.
Earlier this year two windowless flats in a former office building in Brixton, south London, went on sale for £465,000 each.
From 2013, it has been possible to change a building from business to residential use under “permitted development rights”, without planning permission.
The change was part of the government’s effort to combat the country’s acute shortage of housing.
Housebuilding in London and elsewhere is far behind estimates of what is need to cope with a rapidly rising population. In addition, the red-hot housing market in London creates commercial pressure to convert land to housing. However local councils are unhappy with the move because it means they lose income from business rates.
In September it emerged that, across England, six million square feet of office space was lost last year. A large proportion of conversions involved offices in use, rather than disused space, raising fears that the push to provide more housing was leading to businesses being evicted.
Courtesy : ft.com