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Westminster council consults on policy to counter effects of office-to-homes conversions

Westminster Council has opened a consultation into potential alterations to its local plan aimed at maintaining the balance between commercial and residential uses in the borough in the face of an increase in conversions of offices to homes.

In a document published this week (27-page / 3.5 MB PDF), the Council has proposed to introduce a policy requiring that certain schemes replacing office floorspace with residential floorspace must be accompanied by the provision of "an equivalent amount" of commercial and/or social and community floorspace.

According to the document, the proposed policy would apply where an increase in a building's floorspace of greater than 30% was proposed. Options for the provision of replacement floorspace under the proposed policy would include on- or off-site provision or a financial payment in lieu of provision.

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. A recent paper released by developers' representative group the Westminster Property Association claimed that the resulting trend in the borough for the replacement of office space with luxury flats threatened employment in London.

In the foreword to the Council's consultation document, deputy leader of the Council, councillor Robert Davis said: "While the office market [in Westminster] is still strong, the residential market ... is now outbidding office revenues at levels that would have been unthinkable a decade ago."

"Much of this residential growth has come from a change of use of office stock that cumulatively contributed to Westminster's nationally and internationally important employment base," said Davis. "Westminster needs to grow its commercial floorspace, particularly offices, in order to remain globally competitive. The need to reverse the current trend cannot be overstated given Westminster's role in the London and UK economy." 

The consultation is open until 27 February.

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