Council faces costs over warehouse conversion handling

A costs order has been issued against a north London council for unreasonable behaviour in its handling of plans to convert a warehouse on an industrial estate to flats.

The appeal site comprised a two-storey warehouse with an external yard. Two prior approval notifications had been submitted for conversion of the ground and first floors to ten and 15 one-bed studio flats respectively. Prior approval for the ground-floor units had been refused by the council outside the statutory time period. Consequently, the inspector concluded that the appeal succeeded in relation to the change of use to residential and was authorised. However, she also held that associated building operations were outside the scope of the prior approval notification because such operations do not form part of the permission granted under class P, part 3, schedule 2 of the GPDO 2015.

The first-floor conversion had been approved subject to conditions on soundproofing, refuse storage and other matters. As these were never discharged, the inspector concluded that these units were not in accordance with the prior approval conditions and limitations and were therefore unauthorised. As such, she ruled, the permission had not been implemented and no planning permission had been granted for the material change of use or associated external works.

In considering the deemed consent position on the first-floor units and associated building works, the inspector looked at living conditions for occupiers, dwelling mix and the justification for the loss of employment land. Although the studio flats fell two square metres below floorspace standards set in the emerging London Plan, she found that they met the requirements of the existing plan and were acceptable.

The lack of on-site amenity space was acceptable because the site was within a short walking distance of a major amenity corridor, she decided. Equally, she found the lack of a mix of dwelling sizes appropriate given the area’s character and the aspirational nature of the council’s dwelling mix policy.

Regarding the loss of employment land, the inspector found some conflict with the marketing requirements in the council’s policy. However, as the site was not classed as a priority or locally significant employment site and the level of employment from the last use of the property was very low, she concluded that its conversion to residential would not result in unacceptable harm to employment land provision.

Partial costs were awarded to the appellants over the council’s unreasonable behaviour in delaying determination of retrospective applications intended to resolve operational aspects of the scheme. In the inspector’s view, the council had not clearly explained why there had been several months’ between preparation of the officer’s report and determination of the applications, why it failed to acknowledge that it was aware of what works were happening on the site at the time it determined the application, and why it had not agreed to the appellants’ affordable housing evidence upfront before the inquiry, leading to unnecessary delay and expense.

Inspector Hilda Higenbottam; Inquiry

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