Council Leader wins promise of change in planning policy to protect local businesses

Release Date: 16/03/2017

The Government has agreed to relax their “damaging policy” of enabling developers to turn offices into homes without planning permission.

Last night in the House of Lords (15 March) Lord True, Leader of Richmond Council, proposed an amendment to the Neighbourhood Planning Bill to combat the negative impact that Permitted Development is having on businesses in the Borough, including the voluntary sector.

In 2013 the Government introduced new permitted development rights to make it easier to turn offices into new homes. Richmond Council has consistently opposed this. In last night’s debate, Lord True asked the Government to enable local authorities, that meet its housing targets, to be allowed to override the permitted development rights for the conversion of offices to residential. This when it can be demonstrated that it is having a detrimental impact on the local economy and businesses.

In practice, this would mean councils could require full planning permission for such conversions and apply the relevant adopted local planning policies. In addition, Lord True requested that a local authority should be allowed to recover the fees and costs related to a development subject to a prior approval as if it were a normal planning application.

Since the change in planning rules in 2013, this Council has received the highest number of prior approval notifications of any London borough, with hundreds of applications being received. If implemented, this could result in a total potential loss of almost 90,000 square metres of office floor space (30%).

Responding to the request, the Minister-Lord Bourne, gave his commitment that the Secretary of State would not seek to limit an Article 4 Direction applying to a whole borough if the council can show it would have a detrimental impact on a local area and it can continue to meet its housing requirement after the removal of the permitted development rights. With regards to fees and charges, the Minister agreed to bring forward regulations to allow local planning authorities to charge the statutory planning application fee where permitted development rights are withdrawn by an Article 4 direction.

Following the debate, Lord True said:

“I am glad that this Government has now listened. As we speak, dozens of local businesses in our borough, together with the jobs they provide, are being tossed out by developers, as a result of this damaging policy. While this will not the change the position overnight, it will lift that scourge in the near future. Richmond will be putting up the NO ENTRY sign to vulture developers, ready to boot out local businesses and greedy for short-term windfall gains.

“We know of at least three businesses in East Sheen and Mortlake that have been thrown out of their current premises so they can be turned into housing under permitted development.

“Where will these small, independent businesses or charities go? Where will the local jobs and employment opportunities go? And what standard of housing will be slotted into their place?

“As a Council, we have campaigned against this policy ever since it was first introduced, especially when we were not granted an exemption that we applied for. We subsequently implemented two tranches of Article 4 Directions to protect our offices, but that takes time. We can currently only introduce them based on local evidence and justification. The Government always made it clear that they would not counsel a Direction for the entire borough.

“As Ministers make the changes, we will aim to introduce an Article 4 Direction across the whole of Richmond upon Thames; however, we would still need to give a 12 months’ notice of our intention to introduce this to avoid being liable to compensation. However, we are setting the process under way - any developer considering buying offices in the Borough with a view to throwing out businesses should be on notice from today that this Council will expect full compliance with planning policy – you have been warned.

“Whilst for many of our office buildings the horse has already bolted, we have now finally closed a loop hole that will bring security to so many local businesses that provide important jobs, not just here, but across the country.

“I am also pleased that Government has finally recognised the resource implications and that we will be able to charge the statutory fees for determining applications for which the permitted development rights have been removed. After battering our heads against a brick wall under the Coalition and the Cameron government, I am delighted and grateful that Mrs May’s Government has listened on this point.”

Updated: 16 March 2017