One in four London office-to-resi conversions rejected

London councils blocked one in four applications to turn office blocks into homes in the three months to June 2014, according to new research by Daniel Watney.

Changes to permitted development rights in May 2013 enabled developers to convert offices to residential use without seeking planning permission. The law change was intended to bring old buildings back into use.

But developers still have to seek ‘prior approval’, defined by the government’s Planning Portal as “approval from the local planning authority that specified elements of the development are acceptable before work can proceed”.

Data shows 457 prior approval applications were made across London in the three months to June 2014. Of those, 56% were granted, 25% were refused and 19% were deemed not to need prior approval.

Prior approval applications can be refused if they don’t adequately address transport and highway issues, contamination and flooding risk, with developers needing to ensure there is enough information submitted.

Alterations to permitted development rights have been mired in controversy. Many councils have raised concerns over the loss of employment space.

Last December, the government defeated a High Court challenge from Islington and Richmond councils. The judicial review challenging DCLG’s refusal to grant them exemptions from the rule change was also supported by Camden Council.

Since then, councils have sought to use Article 4 directions to restrict permitted development rights. However, the introduction of an Article 4 ultimately has to be approved by the DCLG, and some councils have since been criticized for their attempts at blanket implementation.

It is estimated that applications for around 9,000 new homes have been lodged in London through permitted development since the changes were introduced in 2013. Comparatively, there were 20,720 new home starts over the 12 months to June 2014, meaning conversions are accounting for an increasingly large percentage of the total housing stock being created in the capital.

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

“Councils are still finding ways to refuse office to resi conversions and in some cases, with good reason. It could be due to developers supplying insufficient information or the development could have a seriously negative impact on the local area.”

“But at the same time, we have a woeful undersupply of new homes and remodeling old buildings for new use is far more environmentally friendly than building them from scratch. Protecting office space is important where there’s a need, but it’s important councils avoid using this as a stick to play party politics with.”