Viability assessment questionable without evidence of previous use

In the absence of evidence of the use of a vacant four storey property in a London borough, an inspector was unable to assess the appropriateness of proposals for conversion to either seven dwellings or two flats and a thirteen-bedroom HMO.

The council had previously granted permission for use of the property as seven dwellings subject to a legal undertaking to pay £350,000 towards off-site affordable housing, in accordance with council policy and SPD. At that time the planning officer report noted that the existing lawful use, in terms of the type and number of residential units at the property, was not clear but in the light of compliance with affordable housing policy this had not been an issue.

The appellant applied again for conversion to seven dwellings but with a substantially reduced contribution of only £31,000 towards affordable housing, claiming lack of viability due to an existing use value based on a probable previous use of three dwellings. A second application was made for two flats and an HMO, with no affordable housing contribution. The council declined to validate the applications, on the basis that there was no definitive evidence of the former use of the property as three self-contained flats as described on the application form and providing the basis for the supporting viability assessment.

The inspector found the vacant property fully stripped out and limited documentary evidence from the appellant to demonstrate that residential uses other than an approved hostel use had persisted for long enough to gain immunity from enforcement. He concluded that the council had been reasonable in seeking further information in order to determine the applications and to be able to decide whether or not appropriate provision for affordable housing was being made in each instance. In the unjustified absence of appropriate provision for affordable housing, in conflict with the development plan, the inspector dismissed the appeals.

Inspector: Thomas Bristow; Written representations

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