Parts of Hackney and Tower Hamlets will be exempt from planning laws that came into force on Thursday because the government has recognized that they might hurt new business developments.
The Hackney exemptions apply to key areas associated with commercial growth in the area, including Shoreditch, Hoxton, Dalston and Hackney Central. Tower Hamlets has two similar areas – City Fringe and northern part of the Isle of Dogs, which covers Canary Wharf.
Jules Pipe, Mayor of Hackney, said: “We are pleased to have been granted these exemptions and will continue to protect space for local employment. The original plans could have seriously damaged Hackney’s fast-growing local economy, particularly putting at risk small independent start-up businesses who need affordable office space, and all for the creation of high-value private flats that local people would have been unable to afford.”
He had denounced the original proposals as a “misguided policy [that]could stop growth in its tracks and risk turning the borough into a dormitory village full of luxury apartments that do nothing to tackle the affordable housing crisis”.
The news laws are intended to make it easier for developers to change the use of buildings. Under the previous legislation developers had to apply to the council for permission to change a building from, for example, a bank, to a betting shop, or from a pub to a block of flats.
From today, changes can be made without reference to the council. Although all the boroughs along the East London Line applied for exemption from the new laws, only small areas of Hackney and Tower Hamlets have been given an opt-out.
The Local Government Association said today: “Councils are warning that Government’s attempt to breathe new life into empty buildings by removing safeguards on how commercial properties are used, risks doing the opposite. Instead it could lead to more high streets being over-run with clusters of betting shops and payday loan companies.”
Although the news planning rules are only being brought in for three years, the LGA points out that lack of local council oversight could mean that the balance of housing and amenities in an area will change forever.
The new laws could be a blow to Deptford and Tower Hamlets residents who have been campaigning against more betting shops and to those who have campaigned to prevent pub closures. This could also have an effect on the plans by Tower Hamlets to limit the number of strip clubs in the area.
The changes fly in the face of public opinion. A poll by Comres for the LGA last year found that 76 per cent of residents wanted Government to give councils more powers to improve their high streets in the interests of their communities.