How the Tories’ ‘planning shakeup’ will suffocate London

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How the Tories' 'planning shakeup' will suffocate London
The legislation targets office buildings whether they are occupied or not.
/ Photo: Oli Scarff

Even the most staunch Conservatives are against it. So why is a disastrous new part of the housing and planning bill being made permanent?

The phrases “warehouse living” and “home office” might take on a whole new meaning if the UK government gets its way. Offices, launderettes and industrial units could all become places to live in according to the government’s latest solution to the housing crisis, heralded as another “planning shakeup” to breathe life into unused buildings.

But in a bid to solve one crisis, the new housing and planning bill is paving the way for another. Critics fear it will simply accelerate the hollowing out of London, speeding up the process of suburbanisation that is fast leaving the capital with no affordable places to work.

“Very soon we will wake up and realise we have two crises on our hands,” says Mark Brearley, professor at the Cass Cities unit of London Metropolitan University. “People understand the seemingly insoluble problem that we can’t produce enough housing, but now it’s being joined by the fact that space for London’s economic and civic life is being relentlessly squeezed out.”

The proposed change in legislation will extend “permitted development” rights, allowing offices and light-industrial buildings to be converted into housing without the need for planning permission nor the usual obligations to provide affordable housing. First introduced as a temporary measure in 2013 to give housebuilding numbers a quick boost, and originally due to expire in May 2016, the new legislation would see the rule made permanent. Given that a building can be worth three times more as housing than as an office, many fear it will lead to wholesale evictions of small businesses and the loss of workspace, with London and the south-east facing the brunt, where house prices are so high. […]