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Council digs in for battle with government over office-to-flats scheme

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Council digs in for battle with government over office-to-flats scheme

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Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Local Government and also in Central Government, Development, Housing

office office

Image: Office via Shutterstock

Islington Council has decided to dig its heels in over the government's controversial office-to-flats policy - because of the damage it says it is having on jobs and affordable housing in the borough.

The local authority has written to secretary of state Eric Pickles to ask him to quash his decision to cancel the council’s Article 4 Direction - Islington's attempt to protect parts of the borough from the policy.

The government's policy allows offices to be converted into flats without planning permission.

Over the past year, the high residential values in Islington have meant office tenants - including small businesses and charities - have been evicted to make way for private housing developments.

As planning permission is not required, developers do not have to offer any affordable housing or other community benefits, escaping the section 106 agreements that other developments are subject to.

Islington says the Article 4 direction - originally intended for the entire borough, but then scaled back in an attempt to offer former Planning Minister Nick Boles a compromise - is needed to prevent the further loss of jobs and affordable homes.

Last year, Islington Council became the first local authority in the country to make an Article 4 direction to remove permitted development rights (PDRs) to convert from office to residential.

Introduced by the coalition in May 2013, PDRs allow developers to convert office space into homes without having to apply for planning permission.

However, Islington Council's Article 4 direction would have removed PDRs across the whole borough from tomorrow (15 July).

The council says Pickles' decision to overturn it Article 4 Direction was "based upon a mistake of fact giving rise to unfairness" and that he "failed to act fairly when considering whether to modify the Article 4 direction".

Islington says it has "consistently greatly exceeded" its housing targets set out in the London Plan, and is set to continue to do so.

However, in justifying his action, Pickles claims that the council failed to deliver its housing targets over the 2009-2013 period.

In fact, Islington says it has exceeded its overall housing target by 43% over this period, and Pickles failed to take into account all the types of housing that the London Plan housing targets do.

It is estimated that in 2013/14, over 2,000 residential units have been delivered in Islington against a target of 1,172.

Islington Council's executive member for housing and development, councillor James Murray, said: "The government is trying to stop us doing what's right for Islington.

"Small businesses and charities have already been evicted from their offices to make way for bedsits. People in Islington are losing out on jobs, affordable housing, and any community benefit.

"The planning minister waited until the eleventh hour to overturn our decision, refused to accept a compromise we offered, and in his reasoning got his figures wrong. Given the circumstances, a legal challenge is our only option."

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