Cautious welcome as Conservatives promise 2020 office-to-resi extension

Property experts have welcomed the Conservative party’s promise to extend permitted development (PD) rights to 2020 if re-elected in May.

However, planning experts at Daniel Watney have warned more must be done to protect the supply of offices in London.

Charles Mills, Daniel Watney’s head of planning, says while office-to-residential conversions will play an important part in solving the housing shortage, the government must ensure there is adequate office space in the capital’s central districts.

Demand for office space is at its highest this century. However, supply of new space hit a new low last year, with only 12.9 million sq ft available, despite numerous high profile developments.

Several London boroughs have sought exemptions from permitted development rights, or attempted to block office-to-residential conversions, fearing such conversions would negatively impact local employment. Earlier research by Daniel Watney found London councils had blocked 1-in-4 office-to-resi conversions.

Communities and local government secretary Eric Pickles has insisted PD rights are an effective means of providing much-needed new homes. Many developers agree, including Essential Living, the UK’s first build-to-rent brand, who have used the rule to convert the disused Archway Tower into 118 homes for long term rent.

The temporary permitted development right allowing developers to convert offices into homes without having to apply to local planning authorities for full permission first, was introduced by the coalition government in May 2013.

This right is due to expire in May 2016, and the Coalition government is due to make a statement shortly in response to the consultation last July.

Charles Mills, head of planning at Daniel Watney, said:

“Extending PD rights beyond May 2016 will bring both opportunities and challenges – particularly for London. While office-to-resi conversions are undoubtedly a useful tool to help fix our housing crisis, the Conservatives must be mindful that, with the economic recovery gathering pace, demand for office space is rocketing. We do not want a situation where both people and businesses are priced out the capital due to a lack of supply of homes and offices.”

Scott Hammond, managing director of Essential Living, said:

“PD has enabled a long vacant building in Archway to be remoulded into a new rental community, generating tens of millions of pounds of investment and more than 120 new homes which will be rented for the long term. We hope this will trigger further investment into this and other such areas, as has been the broader intention of this policy.”