Islington office-to-home restriction blocked by ministers

Out-Law News | 11 Jul 2014 | 4:18 pm | 1 min. read

Planning minister Nick Boles has said ministers "have taken steps to cancel" a direction by Islington Council that sought to exempt areas of the borough from rules automatically permitting the conversion of offices to homes.

The government introduced rights in May 2013 allowing office space to be converted to homes without the need for planning permission from local authorities. The Council issued an 'Article 4 direction' in July 2013 to remove these permitted development rights in the borough, but was warned by Boles in a written statement in February 2014 that its application of the direction to the entire borough was unjustified and disproportionate and that it must reduce the extent of the direction to make it "more targeted".

Following the Council's proposal to apply the direction to a smaller area, Boles said in a written ministerial statement (2-page / 78 KB PDF) on 9 July: "Ministers have considered Islington’s proposal for the Article 4 direction to apply to a reduced area but determined, in light of the tests set out in national policy and guidance, that it remains unacceptably expansive and unjustified."

Boles confirmed that ministers had "taken steps to cancel" the direction, adding: "This revocation should send a strong message to the housing industry that we will act to provide certainty and confidence in our change of use reforms, supporting new investment in homes and helping bring under-used property back into productive use as housing."

"Those who seek to oppose these changes need to spell out exactly where they think new homes should go instead, given the pressing demand for housing and the need to protect England's beautiful countryside," said Boles.

Islington Council had previously applied unsuccessfully to the secretary of state for communities and local government for exemption from the rights. The Council's subsequent challenge to the decision not to grant an exemption was dismissed by the High Court in December 2013.

"Governmental intervention has been on the cards for some time," said planning law expert Marcus Bate of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com. "The only real question was which Council would be used as an example."

"Islington had already been warned three times - when its exemption application was refused, when its judicial review failed and when the February Written Ministerial Statement was published," said Bate.

"The Government may be accused of betraying its localism agenda, but it cannot be criticised for unclear messaging.  Provision of more housing and liberalisation of planning rules are clear policy priorities for this Government.  Councils should therefore act with great caution when considering Article 4 directions, using them only where necessary and ensuring that their scope is proportionate and fully justified."