Twickenham office to homes conversion allowed on appeal

Out-Law News | 28 Nov 2014 | 5:22 pm | 1 min. read

A planning inspector has allowed a developer's appeal and granted approval for the residential conversion of a four-storey office block in Twickenham, west London, after dismissing a council's concerns about the traffic impacts and contamination risks of the proposed development.

Charitable organisation the Raphael Freshwater Memorial Association (RFMA) applied to Richmond-upon-Thames Council in January for prior approval to convert the Bridge House office building on London Road in Twickenham into a residential development of 41 flats.

Under a permitted development right introduced by the UK government in May 2013, councils in England may only refuse applications for the conversion of offices to homes on the basis of contamination and flooding risks or their transport and highway impacts. The Council refused the application (4-page / 771 KB PDF) in March, citing concerns about the impacts of the development on traffic and parking in the area and the absence of evidence that the development would not result in contamination.

In a decision letter dated 7 November (6-page / 106 KB PDF), planning inspector Christina Downes concluded that the proposals would cause "no adverse transport or highway impacts". The inspector noted that the proposed residential use was likely to generate "significantly less" traffic than the current use of the site as offices. Downes disagreed with the Council's assumption that all new occupiers would own at least one car, noting that, while the wider borough had a high level of car ownership, 30% of households in the ward in which the development site lay were car free.

The inspector said that many potential occupants "would be attracted to this development because of its accessibility", noting that the site was situated within a short walk from Twickenham town centre, that "Twickenham railway station is virtually opposite" and that there was a choice of bus routes in the vicinity. Downes estimated that the 28 on-site parking spaces proposed by RFMA would lead to a shortfall of three on-site spaces, but that the additional need could be accommodated on surrounding streets without them becoming "heavily parked".

The inspector dismissed the Council's concerns about the potential for contamination of the site. An environmental impact assessment submitted with the application had concluded that the risk of contamination was low and the inspector decided that the Council's fears, arising from the past use of part of the site as a rubber factory and the proximity of a railway, could be dealt with by imposing a precautionary planning condition.

The inspector also found that the transport contribution suggested by the Council to mitigate the effects of increased pedestrian trips to the town centre was "insufficiently justified" and that an obligation to establish or extend a car club for occupiers was unnecessary.