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DCLG admits mistake in Islington office-to-residential restriction fight, council says

Out-Law News | 01 Sep 2014 | 3:50 pm | 1 min. read

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has admitted to making "an error of fact" in its decision to cancel a direction by Islington Council withdrawing permitted development rights for the conversion of offices to homes in parts of the borough, the Council has said.

The Council wrote to secretary of state for communities and local government Eric Pickles last month "asking him to agree to the quashing" of a decision by former planning minister Nick Boles to cancel the Council's Article 4 direction. The Council said that Boles' decision was "based on a mistake of fact giving rise to unfairness". Boles had claimed that the Council had failed to meet its housing targets between 2009 and 2013, whereas the Council estimated that "Islington has exceeded its overall housing target by 43% over this period".

In a statement released on Friday, the Council claimed that the DCLG "has now accepted that it made a mistake of fact by failing to take into account all the types of housing that the London Plan housing targets do" and that it had "agreed to rescind its decision to quash [the Council's] Article 4 direction in the next few weeks".

According to the statement, the Council is now optimistic that "a compromise can be reached with the government on halting unrestricted office-to-flats conversion in the borough", following more than a year of argument.

The government introduced a right to convert offices to homes without the need to apply for planning permission in May 2013. The Council made an Article 4 direction in July 2013 to remove these permitted development rights across the borough but was warned by Boles that it must reduce scope of the direction and make it "more targeted". When the Council proposed applying the direction to a smaller area, however, Boles determined that the direction remained "unacceptably expansive and unjustified" and moved to cancel it.

"No-one would deny that London needs new homes," said James Murray, the Council's executive member for housing and development, in a statement last week. "We are one of the top boroughs nationally for building new homes - we're actually building thousands of genuinely affordable homes for social rent.

"The government says its policy is about converting empty offices into homes," added Murray. "Yet in Islington, we can see the damaging effect this policy is having. We're losing jobs but getting lots of one-bed and bedsit flats, with no affordable housing or other community benefit.

"I am pleased Eric Pickles accepts his department made a mistake, and I hope this means we can now have a proper discussion about how we can protect jobs and provide decent, affordable homes in Islington."