Government plans that could see more office block conversions in Harlow go before Parliament today

Business / Tue 21st Jul 2020 at 07:50am

TODAY could mark the day when it will be “open season” for a flood of more office block conversions in Harlow.

The government is tearing up planning red tape from today to allow boarded up shops and abandoned offices to be turned into homes without the need for full planning permission, under new laws being introduced today reports the Daily Mail.

Changes to the planning system will make it easier for business owners and developers to ‘repurpose’ premises that are no longer needed and bring them back into use.

Campaign groups have hit out at reforms, that include plans to have dedicated areas for building, with one group saying government plans could lead to ‘thousands of tiny, poor quality “homes” in unacceptable locations like industrial estates.’

The initiatives, which are set to be put before Parliament later today, are part of a wider drive to free up the planning system and allow more development.

Environment Secretary George Eustice yesterday announced a review of the system of environmental impact assessments, which is blamed for holding up some developments.

It comes less than a month after PM Boris Johnson used a speech in Dudley, West Yorkshire, to promise the ‘the most radical reforms of our planning system since the end of the Second World War’.

And ministers are drawing up proposals for broader changes this summer, including a possible new presumption in favour of development in certain designated areas.

The rule shake-up will mean full planning applications will not be required to demolish and rebuild unused buildings as homes, allowing commercial and retail properties to be quickly repurposed, according to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

The latest changes, which will come into force in September, are designed to help breathe new life into high streets hit hard by the lockdown, as well as opening up a new route for housing provision.

At present, firms need full ‘change of use’ planning permission to convert a shop or office into a new type of business or into housing.

From September, they will be offered a fast-track process for approval. Developers will also be allowed to demolish vacant buildings for new purposes without full planning permission.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said: ‘We are reforming the planning system and cutting out unnecessary bureaucracy to give small business owners the freedom they need to adapt and evolve, and to renew our town centres with new enterprises and more housing.

‘These changes will help transform boarded up, unused buildings safely into high quality homes at the heart of their communities.

Ministers believe the changes could help keep town centres alive if the fallout from the coronavirus lockdown leads to the closure of shops and offices.

The Cabinet minister said he hoped the change in the rules would reduce pressure to build on greenfield sites and deliver more homes that fit the character of their local area while also eliminating red tape.

But the move is likely to be controversial with critics who claim that previous conversions of offices into housing have often failed to provide the necessary infrastructure, such as schools, transport and healthcare.

Homeless charity Shelter has warned that some office conversions have left families miles from local facilities with no public transport.

Proposals to allow people to add two storeys to their properties could also risk clashes between neighbours. Sources said people would be required to ‘carefully consider the impact on neighbours and the appearance of the extension’.

Daniel Slade, from the Town and Country Planning Association, warned The Telegraph changes could lead to ‘thousands of tiny, poor quality “homes” in unacceptable locations like industrial estates’.

His concerns were echoed by the Campaign for Rural England, with chief executive Crispin Truman telling the paper: ‘Our evidence has shown that three quarters of housing developments should not have been granted planning permission due to poor or mediocre design quality.

‘Further deregulation as proposed here, would only make the problem worse.’

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1 Comment for Government plans that could see more office block conversions in Harlow go before Parliament today:

2020-07-21 08:52:14

This is all about the Tories rush to quantity rather than quality. Setting council's unrealistic targets reflected in Local Plan's and warning them that if they don't get Plans in place they will increase the number of homers "needed" shows this is all about housing greed not housing need. With more and more people working from home and using the internet to buy things, even more offices and shops will never be used for their original purpose again.The Government should allow councils to keep 100% of the money they receive from tenants buying their homes and in addition provide cash to Councils to buy up such buildings who could then carry out work to provide proper, decent sized homes for families, paying a council level (not affordable) rent.

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