Islington to continue fight against office-to-residential permitted development rights

Out-Law News | 13 Aug 2014 | 5:20 pm | 2 min. read

Islington Council has written to the secretary of state for communities and local government (SoS), asking him to reconsider his decision to cancel a direction withdrawing permitted development rights for office-to-residential conversions in parts of the borough.

In a statement yesterday the Council said that the decision made by the then planning minister Nick Boles in July to cancel the 'Article 4 direction' made by the Council was "based on a mistake of fact giving rise to unfairness" and that he "failed to act fairly when considering whether to modify the ... direction". The Council said that it had written to the SoS "asking him to agree to the quashing of his decision". The statement may indicate that the Council intends to seek judicial review of the decision and has given the SoS the opportunity to agree to an order from the High Court quashing the decision rather than contesting a review.

The government introduced a right to convert offices to homes without the need to apply for planning permission in May 2013. A report published by the Estates Gazette last week indicated that Islington had been particularly affected by the permitted development rights. The borough received applications for office-to-residential refurbishments representing 617 units in the year following May 2013, compared to an average of 45 per units per year in the preceding five years. All 617 units were applied for via the new permitted development route.

The Council made an Article 4 direction in July 2013 to remove these permitted development rights, but was warned by the then planning minister Nick Boles that its application of the direction to the entire borough was unjustified and disproportionate and that it must reduce the scope of the direction to 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. "This revocation will send a strong message to the housing industry that we will act to provide certainty and confidence in our change of use reforms," Boles had said.

The Council contested Boles' claims that it failed to deliver its housing targets between 2009 and 2013, estimating that "Islington has exceeded its overall housing target by 43% over this period" and "delivery over the next five years is forecast to exceed the mayor's new higher targets by 38%".

"The government is trying to stop us doing what's right for Islington," said councillor James Murray, the Council's executive member for housing and development in a statement yesterday. "Small businesses and charities have already been evicted from their offices to make way for bedsits. People in Islington are losing out on jobs, affordable housing, and any community benefit."

"The planning minister waited until the eleventh hour to overturn our decision, refused to accept a compromise we offered, and in his reasoning got his figures wrong," added Murray. "Given the circumstances, a legal challenge is our only option."