Offices make way for homes

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The Independent Online
THE Government is stepping up its efforts to turn land used for offices into housing.

It is prepared to refuse to allow developers to renew their planning permissions for offices and is trying to encourage conversion of offices into flats. This is a step often opposed by councils, because they fear losing business rates.

The efforts follow a little-publicised circular issued earlier this year, which pointed out that 'some sites with extant, but unimplemented, permissions for office or other uses may be equally suitable for housing development . . . such a change in the local plan provision could then be taken into account in deciding whether or not to renew existing (planning) permission, not implemented after five years'.

The pressure on local authorities comes at a time when an increasing number of developers are giving up hope of getting tenants for new or planned office blocks, especially in inner London boroughs like Southwark and Islington. They are finding that housing associations, bursars of London's numerous institutions of higher education, and the administrators of hospitals are all eager to lease new or converted blocks.

Geoff Marsh, who has been advocating the idea of converting unlettable offices into affordable housing for several years, said that his firm, Applied Property Research, was receiving up to five serious enquiries from developers and potential landlords a week - a considerable acceleration over the past few months.

He is finding that large developers are increasingly interested in creating housing, as they despair of the long-term future of London offices that are not situated on prime sites.

Indeed, the most recent application for conversion of an office block into housing is in Houndsditch, on the eastern edge of the City.