Tower Hamlets challenges town centre planning laws

Office space could be turned into flats under new planning laws. Photo: Bill Konos

Office space could be turned into flats under new planning laws. Photo: Bill Konos

Tower Hamlets Council has joined those of three other London boroughs in challenging new planning laws that could allow developers to convert office space into flats without obtaining planning permission.

The four London boroughs – Sutton, Islington, Tower Hamlets and Richmond – earlier this month submitted papers to the High Court asking a judge to decide if there is a case for a judicial review, which they hope will grant them powers to make areas exempt from the new powers.

According to the government, the “town centre first” planning rules are designed to “remove red tape”, and make more housing available in town centres.

However, the councils believe that the new laws will lead to a lack of affordable housing, a lower footfall in town centre and could have a detrimental effect on local businesses.

Councillor Ruth Dombey, leader of Sutton Council, said: “We are deeply concerned about this change which would mean that we would lose employment opportunities in the town centre as offices disappear.

“There would also be no obligation for developers to provide affordable housing and there could be knock-on effects on shops in town centres as footfall is lost and shopkeepers suffer.”

Tower Hamlets has two areas – City Fringe and the northern part of the Isle of Dogs – that have been made exempt from the new permitted development rights; however the council wants the power to make more areas exempt.

A statement from Tower Hamlets council said: “We were unsuccessful in securing wider exemptions across the borough and are extremely concerned that the new permitted development rights will result in a loss of important employment accommodation, in particular of the type suitable for small and medium sized enterprises, due to high residential values.

“We are also concerned that any new housing will not contribute to the borough’s need for affordable family homes, will not be required to meet our standards for design quality and will not contribute to the additional demands placed on social infrastructure. We fully support Islington Council in their legal action and have confirmed our status as an ‘Interested Party’”.

Launching the new planning minister Nick Boles MP said: “The new ‘town centre first’ planning rules will cut red tape and make it easier to bring empty and underused buildings back to life, revitalising our high streets and rural towns.

He continued: “Thousands of empty and underused buildings, often on the edge of town centres, are going to waste because people do not want the hassle and uncertainty of submitting a planning application.

Removing this barrier will bring more people closer to their town centres, providing a much needed boost to local shops and ensuring we make the most of buildings that are already there for new homes, nurseries and schools this country needs.”

A judge will now decide whether there is a case for a judicial review and, if it is decided there is, a court date will be set for later in the year.

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