Office-to-homes legal challenge granted High Court hearing next month

Four London boroughs challenging the government's new rules allowing offices to be converted into homes without the need for planning permission have been granted a hearing in the High Court next month.

London's Royal Courts of Justice
London's Royal Courts of Justice

The London Boroughs of Islington, Camden, Richmond upon Thames and Lambeth are together bringing two actions against the new office-to-residential permitted development rights, introduced by the government on 30 May.  

This revised the General Permitted Development Order allowing such conversions to take place without the need for planning permission.  

Having applied for a judicial review against the government, the four boroughs have been told that their applications were successful and a High Court hearing will be held on 4 December, it was announced today.

In a statement, Islington Council complained that councils have "lost the ability to protect office space, and they are not able to demand that the new homes are affordable or even meet basic space standards".

It added: "With no need for planning permission, residents' rights to be notified in advance and to raise any objection have been swept away."

Islington said that Camden and Richmond are both supporting its action and sharing the cost.

Lambeth, meanwhile, is bringing a separate legal challenge to the new rules, to be heard at the same time.

Tower Hamlets, Ealing and Sutton councils are contributing towards the cost of the legal challenge, Islington added.

The council argues that the way the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) allowed certain areas to opt out from the change but not others was unlawful.

Before it introduced the new permitted development rules on 30 May, the government granted exemptions to 17 authorities for the whole or parts of their areas, though 165 councils applied.

James Murray, Islington Council’s executive member for housing and development, said: "In Islington, we have firm plans for building good quality, affordable housing. But the government's changes are undermining what we're trying to do by allowing developers to bypass these plans in a reckless free-for-all."

Murray said the new law means that "any office space can be converted into poor quality private homes with no affordable housing", warning of "a real danger that small offices across the borough will be lost to private housing".

"We are determined to fight this," he addded.

The new rules mean that developers seeking office-to-residential must submit applications under a 'prior approval' system.

Islington Council said it has receieved 27 'prior approval' applications which have resulted in the loss of almost 17,000 square metres of B1 office floorspace equating to about 1,400 jobs. Small businesses and charities have had to be evicted, it claimed.

Meanwhile, Richmond Council has received 107 such applications, the most of any London borough, Islington Council said.

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