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Islington Council bid to opt out of office to flat conversion rules turned down

Cllr James Murray Cllr James Murray

Monday, July 14, 2014
4:28 PM

A town hall bid to opt out of Government plans allowing developers to turn offices into bedsits almost at will has been rejected in what the council says is an “ill-founded, eleventh-hour intervention”.

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Nick Boles MPNick Boles MP

The legislation, adopted in May 2013, lets office space be turned into housing with no planning permission, without notifying people and without the local authority being able to make sure the houses are up to scratch.

Already 68 buildings have been given prior approval to be converted in the borough under the new rules – 45,000 sq meters of office space which the town hall say equates to 3,000 jobs. In some cases, the council says small businesses and charities have been evicted.

To escape the plans, the council made an Article 4 direction to remove right to convert offices to homes from July 15 – but two days before the direction was due to come in, planning minister Nick Boles MP thew it out.

Councillor James Murray, Islington Council’s executive member for housing, said: “I’m very frustrated by the planning minister’s decision to stop us doing what’s right for Islington.

“We’re already seeing small businesses and charities being evicted from offices to make way for bedsits. People are losing out on jobs, affordable housing, and any community benefit.

“I’m also very disappointed that the planning minister waited until the eleventh hour to overturn our decision, refused to accept a compromise we offered, and in his reasoning got his figures wrong. Islington has consistently greatly exceeded its housing targets and is set to continue to do so.”

Of the homes created in these spaces so far, an estimated two thirds are one-bedroom flats or bedsits – and no affordable housing has been created.

The planning minister said the council had “applied their direction disproportionately”.

He added: “These practical planning reforms are providing badly needed new homes on brownfield sites, close to urban locations and transport links, at no cost to the taxpayer.

“Yet a small minority of town halls are trying to undermine these reforms, not least, since they are unable to hit such builders with state levies or since they may have an irrational objection to more private housing.

“Yet, these conversions coming forward will help offer competitively priced properties, accessible to hard-working people.”

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