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Lewis concedes in conversions row

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Islington LBC has gained concessions in a battle with the government over office conversions.

It will now be able to require that planning permission is sought for conversions of offices to homes in six parts of the north London borough judged to have high demand for commercial space.

The council wanted to restrict operation of the government’s ‘office to residential’ building conversions policy across the authority, arguing that essential employment space was being lost.

But its ‘article 4 direction’ – a local planning power to disapply the policy– was rejected in July by then planning minister Nick Boles.

Islington then said the Department for Communities & Local Government had made an error in the calculations used to justify Mr Boles’ decision, and threatened to take the matter to judicial review.

The row followed the government’s adoption last year of a policy that allows offices to be converted to homes without needing further planning permission.

Ministers argued this would allow surplus offices to be used to alleviate the housing shortage.

But in a deal now reached between Islington and housing minister Brandon Lewis, the article 4 direction will apply to the six areas.

Mr Lewis said in a statement: “With more mobile modern-day working practices, and housing being in such demand, it makes sense to allow the free market to create new homes on brownfield land.”

Islington’s executive member for housing and development James Murray (Lab), said in a statement: “The government’s initial decision to block us was wrong, and we were right to challenge it.

“We have said from day one that the government’s office-to-flats policy is having a detrimental effect on Islington and, in fact, right across London. The extremely high value of flats in Islington meant that small businesses and charities were being evicted.”



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