Letter to Editor: Office conversions an example of “an incompetent Labour administration at Harlow Council”.
News / Thu 18th Oct 2018 am31 06:48am
The report into offices being converted into flats is 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 has been using this type of accommodation to house it’s own “homeless families”
3. The Harlow Alliance Party has 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 these households will include one 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.
Candidate for the Harlow Alliance Party
Bush Fair ward
Note: Full list of candidates can be found on our politics page.
The conversion of offices into residential accommodation of the sort described in Mr Taylor’s letter is through a mechanism known as Permitted Development, a mechanism legislated for by the Conservative Government that effectively by-passes local planning. It is a deeply flawed piece of legislation which we are nonetheless saddled with. Harlow Council has frequently objected to poorly designed conversions being used to house the overspill of London Boroughs and some neighbouring authorities on the cheap and we have successfully taken legal action to prevent some such developments. However, the success of legal action is by no means guaranteed and it is expensive, so it is a route we take only when it is clear we have a good chance of success. We are currently looking at the chances of further legal action to protect other commercial areas including the town centre from inappropriate development. It is more than a little concerning that Mr Taylor, who has served as a Council Officer in the past and who is seeking election as a Councillor, does not have a better grasp of the underlying causes of the problems we are facing here in Harlow with “Permitted Development”. Harlow Council is committed to more and better housing to address Harlow's housing needs which is why the Labour administration recently announced the recommencement of Council House building.
I hope other readers do not share Cllr Ingalls concern that I as an officer who worked for the Council for 22 years does not have a grasp of this subject. The fact is: A quick check on the internet revealed that for example Birmingham Council obtained an Article 4 Direction as long ago as November 2014, Kingston on 25 February 2015 and Stevenage in December 2017. I feel sure like many others, that many of the buildings converted, such as at Templefields, would never have received Planning Permission, even subject to an appeal. Due to a lack of judgement and foresight the Labour Administration seemed to think that allowing conversions in the Town Centre would help with it's regeneration. This was never going to be the case for the reasons I have stated. It also suited the Council to put families in such units and the views expressed some months ago by another reader only served to highlight the problems even for local families. We can agree with what is now happening, Officers need to come forward with solutions for the way forward, much sooner rather than later. With the release of the borrowing cap on Council borrowing powers, perhaps buying up some of the buildings may be an option?
Tenpin. I will never share councillor ingalls concerns or then again any concerns of those Who are under his thump.
Unfortunately the town has been let down again by this administrating party. Their in action makes them complicit for the current problems. The quality of some of the Labour councillors really is shocking.
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