Council steps in to block Government office conversion plans

New Hackney Council rules will safeguard offices in areas like Shoreditch's Tech City, Dalston and Hackney Central from being turned into poor-quality unaffordable housing after Government ministers refused to extend protections for local businesses.

The rules, approved by the Council’s Cabinet last night, will mean any proposals to convert offices into homes will have to go through the normal planning process – rather than using Government-imposed loopholes to bypass it completely.

In 2013, after successful Council lobbying, Hackney's town centres were given a special exemption from Government planning changes called permitted development rights.

Without an exemption, these rules would have meant developers no longer needed to apply for planning permission for conversions from an office to a residential use, or provide any affordable housing, contribute to additional school places or fund local facilities.

Ministers have now refused to extend the exemption granted in 2013 after it expires in May, which is why the Council has brought in its own rules – formally called an Article 4 Direction.

A Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors report last year revealed that office-to-residential conversions were producing “extremely poor-quality housing”, with just 30 per cent of homes meeting national space standards, while the Town and Country Planning Association has called the conversions “slums”.

Last month, the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee recommended the Government should suspend permitted development rights because they risked undermining local people’s vision for their high street.

Cllr Guy Nicholson, Cabinet Member for Planning, Business and Investment
Ministers are ignoring the advice of councillors, MPs and businesses by continuing to support the unchecked conversion of office spaces in our town centres.

Where the Government is pulling the rug out from underneath Hackney’s businesses, we’re making sure the Council is stepping in to put it back. By using its own planning powers the Council can help protect the offices and workspaces along our high streets from the kind of rampant market-led development that chases short term profits at the expense of quality and affordability.

This kind of short sighted Government directive does nothing to help our local economy prosper and works against the best interests of Hackney's residents, workers and entrepreneurs. We are determined to stand up for quality and affordability, ensuring that as our borough changes everyone can benefit and no one gets left behind. These Article 4 Directions help the Council do just that.
Cllr Guy Nicholson, Cabinet Member for Planning, Business and Investment

In November 2017, previous Secretary of State for Housing and Planning Alok Sharma MP wrote to the Council to confirm that Hackney’s special exemptions from permitted development rights would not be extended.

Without the exemption, developers would be able to convert offices into homes without submitting a planning application or needing to provide any affordable homes or other benefits for the local area.

The Council’s new policy follows specific new rules to force developers to reprovide genuinely affordable workspace in Hackney Wick, measures to protect shops and laundrettes from being converted into homes and the Council’s extensive conversation with residents, businesses and voluntary groups in Dalston about rapid changes in the area.