Research reveals extent of office to homes conversions in England's cities

Out-Law News | 28 Nov 2014 | 5:18 pm | 2 min. read

Research by Planning Magazine has revealed the extent to which rules introduced by the UK government last year are being used to convert offices to homes without applying for planning permission.

The UK government introduced a temporary permitted development right in May 2013, allowing developers in most parts of England to convert offices into homes without having to apply to local planning authorities for full permission to do so.

The Planning Magazine research showed that approval was granted for the creation of nearly 17,500 homes from office space in London and eight other English cities between May 2013 and July 2014. Of these homes, 13,090 had been approved in London and a total of 4,335 had been approved in the "core cities" of Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield.

Of the seven councils approving the highest numbers of housing units, six were in London, the research found. The London Borough of Croydon had approved the creation of nearly 2,500 homes in office buildings, more than twice the number approved in Nottingham, which gave prior approval for the second highest number of homes. Croydon's figures included 404 residential units at the former BT office building at Delta Point, the largest single application approved under the new rules. 

The London Boroughs of Hounslow, Barnet, Harrow, Camden and Richmond-upon-Thames had all approved the creation of at least 700 homes from offices, the report found. Hounslow's approvals included 160 homes at Central House and a further 139 homes at the Vista Business Centre.

The London Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames was reported to have received and approved the most applications, having granted more than 150 approvals during the 14 month period. More than 100 approvals had also been issued by the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, although these amounted to less than 500 homes.

Planning Magazine also looked at how "friendly" London's boroughs were towards office-to-residential prior approval applications. It found that Barking and Dagenham and Bexley had both approved 100% of applications received and that Enfield had approved 95%. The London Borough of Greenwich was found to be "most hostile" towards applications, having refused 61%. Lambeth and Newham were considered the next most hostile boroughs, refusing 42% and 40% of applications respectively.

The government has proposed, in its technical consultation on planning (98-page / 475 KB PDF), to extend the permitted development right beyond 2016 and to allow types of buildings other than offices to be converted into homes. The plans have met with particular opposition among London boroughs and mayor of London Boris Johnson wrote to the government in September to make "a very vigorous case for the retention of business space in London".

While not all the authorities included had provided details of the amount of office floorspace set to be lost to homes, the report said that 44,000 square metres would be lost in Islington alone if all approved conversions went ahead. The London Borough of Harrow was set to lose 38,800 sq m of office space and Ealing had reported that of the 21 of the 30 office buildings due to be converted in its administrative area were currently occupied.