Letter to Editor: New leader of Harlow Council on offices converted to flats

News / Sun 20th May 2018 pm31 04:08pm

Peartree 2


An article on your website earlier this week stated that Harlow Council has granted permission for Peartree Business Centre to be converted into residential flats (Edinburgh Way Business Centre to convert offices into flats, (YH May 15, 2018).

The article goes on to say that “it was decided that this did not need to come before the planning committee”.

This is misleading and needs to be set straight.

The conversion of Commercial Property into units of accommodation is what is known as “permitted development” and it is permitted as a result of an amendment proposed by the former Conservative Secretary of State, Eric Pickles to The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development Order).

The change in legislation began in May 2013 and means that offices can be converted to residential dwellings without the need for the usual approvals process (i.e. of coming before the planning committee).

Anyone wishing to carry out such a development is required to apply to the local authority (in this case, Harlow Council) for a determination as to whether the ‘prior approval’ of the authority is required – that is to say, whether the development can proceed. However the local authority can only assess whether prior approval is required on the basis of four specific considerations – the impact on highway and transport, contamination, flooding and noise from the commercial premises. On the basis of these, and these alone, can the local authority grant approval, either with conditions or unconditionally or refuse permission.

Applications were made to Harlow Council for the development of Terminus House and Peartree Business Centre and officers assessed the applications on the basis of these four considerations. They found that there was no justification under the legislation to refuse permission. The developments are therefore going ahead because the Council’s hands are tied by the Government’s legislation

Harlow Council has serious concerns about this type of development. Not only do they by-pass the usual approvals process, developers are not required to contribute anything towards the costs of improving infrastructure such as schools, parking or health services, as other developers must and indeed the developments place a strain upon these services.

Given the nature of their former use, these developments are often be sited away from residential areas, making accessing amenities difficult for the new residents and creating a barrier to them integrating into the wider community.

And because they are not subject to the usual planning rules, the Council has no way of ensuring that the accommodation created is of an acceptable standard and size, or of influencing who is housed there.

Yes, we have a serious shortage of housing, particularly here in the South East, and Harlow Council has ambitious plans to increase the number and types of housing available to residents in the Local Plan and as we establish Harlow as a Garden Town. But the conversion of commercial premises without the full oversight of the local authority is not the way to go about it.

And make no mistake that is what this ill thought out piece of Tory legislation is enabling.

Mark Ingall

Leader, Harlow Council

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12 Comments for Letter to Editor: New leader of Harlow Council on offices converted to flats:

2018-05-20 16:27:45

And here we have the decades old Tory trick working again, create a piece of insidiously difficult and likely unpopular legislation on the sly, and when councils are forced to comply, that's who local residents will blame because they're within kicking distance. The fact that a rule like this will disproportionately affect urban and inner city areas (ie councils likely not to be Tory) and there's evidence of a targeted campaign by the Conservative Party against local authorities they don't like, using local residents as human shields. They want all of the power but none of the responsibility.

2018-05-20 16:45:03

This is just another example of how the government has helped property developers have a stranglehold over the housing market. They can spend as little as possible on conversion, pay nothing to the council as they would if they were providing new build and leave with a massive profit and no regard for the strain on local public services. The count so far is as follows: Terminus House 220, Pearsons 200, Temple Bank 100+, Astra House ? Shield House ?, Peartree Centre 24. Harlow Council should be bold enough to say that this has met much of the housing numbers set for it over the next 13 years on it's 'provisional' local plan and delete the playgrounds and other open spaces between estates from the list of sites. It would still leave the hospital site, Lister House and others involving 'brownfield' sites, more than enough to provide houses (and we hope bungalows for local residents).

2018-05-20 17:50:45

What makes me laugh is that you say Harlow Council are against these plans yet they use Temple house and terminus house as Temporary accommodation!! Just it’s all done underhand and on the quiet! If they were that against these types of dwellings they would not use them!!

2018-05-20 18:39:31

Terminus House doesn't belong to the council as far as I'm aware Temple House is presumably the same so they would have little control over a change to residential status precisely because of the Tory legislation that has been detailed in the council leader's informative and enlightening statement. The Local Plan details the rest of Harlow Council's proposals for residential development and will be no doubt discussed in detail with residents and representatives. It's an uphill struggle when the legislation has been changed at the top but I have no doubt that the council has been and will continue to be bold in their dealings with ECC and the government at large. This is yet another example of Tory divide and rule politics, pitting the populace against each other as they use the conflict to deflect attention from themselves, the ones that are really to blame.

2018-05-20 19:08:27

Well as usual JFQ you are trying to ignore the points being raised. Firstly, Nelly is right, whilst Harlow Council is very unhappy about the planning situation, it, like many other Councils are using them to house individuals and families who have been homeless and/or been forced to leave London, the very least able to live in such places. They should stick to their beliefs and simple should stop doing so. Secondly, The Local Plan does not detail the REST of Harlow Council's proposals for residential developments. It gives full details of where they think they should go, having put out a public consultation some three years ago which hardly anyone knew about and only 136 people responded and the consultation soon to be undertaken will not be about individual sites but how the council has put the plan together. The point I made was that with other nearby Councils the number of homes to be built has been agreed. Harlow Council should be bold enough to say that hundreds are already in the pipeline from office to flat conversions and so those on playing fields and open spaces can now be deleted. This is not a political decision but one of common sense. Without it, come 2031 at the end of the plan, 16000 homes will have been created within the plan PLUS thousand more outside of the plan, placing an even more intolerable strain on public services.

2018-05-20 21:00:07

Thank you Tempin. Just for the record Jerry from Queens i never said Harlow Council owned these! I can 100% tell you that Harlow Council use these as Temp accommodation because they put my brother and his family in there and they are from Harlow! Temple house has 200 flats and most of those are the homeless from London boroughs and the rest are from Harlow council!

2018-05-20 21:16:22

Just to add that whilst these premises are having to be used they may as well be used for those homeless in Harlow instead of out of area. At least all will have places in schools, doctors etc... already set up! The fact that Harlow council voice concerns about the change in legislation whilst also stating that they have no control if the properties are of an acceptable standard is an admittance to placing Harlow families at risk!

2018-05-21 11:25:05

It's difficult to see what you're getting at here, Nelly. You seem to accept that the council don't own these properties yet in the same breath attack the council for using them like it's all their fault. On this issue the council are hostage to legislation from central government and for the Conservative Party it is a convenient way of setting people against each other while (they think) washing their hands of the blame, which has been Tory dogma since the party was founded.

2018-05-21 16:40:12

The moaning by Ingall and his cronies, appears to be about their lack of control over the shortcut process to get property conversions into public usage, sooner than later. Noise, flooding etc; they didn't consider that would be a problem when initial permission was given to develop the properties. Sour grapes, that's all.

2018-05-21 17:28:38

Well JFQ you must be the only person who does not understand the issue that Nelly raises but I suspect that you do really but are choosing to ignore it. The fact is, most of these office conversions are in places where no-one would choose to rent let alone buy (assuming that mortgages can be obtained). Developers know that they have to look elsewhere to find occupants and they know Council's are having to find accommodation to house homeless families and so have an endless supply of tenants. This fuels the rush to convert offices. Until Council's like Harlow stop this practice, then many of the most vulnerable in our society who you profess to want to help, will be left in totally inadequate accommodation.

2018-05-26 19:07:03

Once again, Tenpin, listen to the leader of the council. He knows what he's talking about. But if you want a reminder: policy has been put in by central government to bypass the concerns of local authorities. They are to blame. Thank your old pal Bob for that one.

2018-05-28 21:17:17

Try listening to someone who has 44 years of Council house management and not someone who has only been in post a few days .What Cllr Ingall says is a simply explanation about the legislation. What he chooses to ignore is the fact that Harlow Council like many other councils are using these homes for homeless families because the owners cannot get other people to buy or rent office conversions. If they stopped using them, such conversions would not continue taking place. I feel sure Nelly and every household from Harlow being forced by the council into such accommodation will reflect on the way they have been treated by the council for years to come.

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