Detailed report into office blocks turned into homes given at Harlow Council
News / Wed 17th Oct 2018 pm31 03:18pm
A DETAILED report into the subject of office blocks turned into homes (permitted developments) was made at Harlow Council.
Changes to the law has allowed developers to make the changes without planning permission.
Since then thirteen offices have been converted into over 1,000 units for people to live in.
The item was discussed at the Harlow Council Scrutiny Committee.
Delivering the report, Head of Community Well-Being, Jane Greer took councillors through the impact of the new form of housing.
Ms Greer told the chamber that they had written to all the chief executives of councils who had sent residents to Harlow.
The council detailed the large number of problems that had arisen.
1. High volume of calls to Essex Police
2. Suspected drug use and drug dealing.
3. Incident son domestic abuse.
4. Children been placed out-of-area while on Child Protection Plan. This is contrary to London boroughs own protocol for out of area placements.
5. Lone males hanging around sites leading to concerns about the potential for grooming of vulnerable adults and children.
6. Some resident children have told school staff they they are frightened to go home and are unable to sleep at night.
The officer detailed what works had been done so far as well as stress that there were property groups such as Caridon Property Group (who run Terminus House) who had evicted tenants where necessary.
A fifteen minute film of the item is below.
I guess this report took all of a nanosecond to write. Harlow council's lack of response to these developments makes them complacent, and the more cynical of us may point out that the biggest financial burden of these troubled individuals falls on services provided by the Conservative controlled county council but their votes to this now momentum dominated District council. Just as an aside why would only "lone men" raise concerns of potential grooming? Myra Hindley, Rose West and Maxine Carr were the means of luring in victims. This is also a favoured technique by the gangs in Labour controlled Rotherham.
Head of community well being Ms Greer should be looking for another job as given the list of problems she has failed, Harlow council must have been a soft touch for these so call property developers and spun a yarn when planning was applied for because all that has happened we have become a dumping ground for London boroughs. A FOI request is needed to find the ratio of out of town tenants against Harlow people living in these places,strange that the council have now stopped this development and a pity they could not have done the same for people on Harlows waiting list rather than the above list,if you thought Occasio house was bad we now have it thirteen times.
Another example of an incompetent Labour Administration at Harlow Council. 1 They could have taken Legal action far earlier so that anyone wanting to convert offices across the whole town would need to seek Planning Permission which would have given them much more control over the matter. 2 Harlow Council have been using this type of accommodation to house it's own "homeless families" 3 The Harlow Alliance Party have been raising this issue for many months. We made a Freedom of Information request to find out what other Local Authorities were using accommodation to house "homeless families. This revealed that many were not advising Harlow Council, including 26 families from Lewisham and 2 from Southend.The officer can only write to other Councils if she knows that families from another area are notified to the Council. 4 Most of these conversions can only be sold to cash purchasers, as the mortgage sector will not give mortgages on the flats. As an example, 40 of the flats at Pearson House do not have external windows, who else but someone desperate for any sort of accommodation would want one of them. Developers are doing these conversions in the knowledge that Council will snap them up to house "homeless" families. 5 The Council seemed to think that bringing hundreds of new homes(flats) into the town centre would help with it's regeneration. What is happening now does not bode well for the future. 6 Virtually all of this households will include 1 or more children. They can be sent here with little or no notice, the consequence is now being felt at schools and doctors surgeries amongst other services. 7 Non of these occupants will call Harlow home, in due course all will return from where they came from, to be replaced by other families and so the problem is long term.
The office conversions are outside of the planning requirements, which is why we have the problem. The building owners do not need to notify the council of their conversion, they go ahead and then people start turning up. The council has no powers to force owners to tell them what they are doing or who are occupying the properties. The council has only prevented them in one area, the Enterprise Zone on River Way. As it is a problem specific to Harlow it is difficult getting support from other councils to change the regulations allowing the conversions. The MP has written to the local government minister pointing out the problems and seeking swift action.
Seems to me that there are confused issues: Harlow people eg Young people and perhaps very old need small easily managed housing units. Young people are sofa surfing or leaving town. Conversion of used office blocks seems a potential way to provide such housing. So might providing housing be a good thing? A separate issue is control of such housing and control of anti social behaviour. These are separate issues: as the demand from Cllrs for increased policing of the town centre shows. The idea of providing desperately needed housing and this as a part solution will remain as long as housing policy remains such that as a town we can only boast of providing 19 new Council houses (see recent Harlow News). As usual a lack of vision and an appreciation of the wider picture from government down through County and local government: makes one ashamed to be English.
I am afraid Simon, you need to do more research. This is not just a problem in Harlow. The problems were foreseen by many Councils across the Country. As far back as 2014 when Birmingham City Council started to take the legal step which required developers to seek Planning Permission for such conversions. Many others followed. The Conservative Government are making noises that they now realise that the legislation which allowed office conversions were flawed. Harlow Council were (as usual) slow off the blocks.
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