Turning empty offices into apartments is a good thing, but not everyone agrees.
Throughout England, more than half of all new homes in some areas have been created by allowing developers to convert offices without detailed planning permission, write Toby Wood and Kem Mehmed of the Peterborough Civic Society.
These ‘Permitted Development rights’ were brought in by the Government to help boost housebuilding figures and since 2015, 30,575 housing units in England have been converted from offices to flats without having to go through the planning system. These conversions are exempt from most of the requirements applied to other planning permissions. There is no provision for ‘affordable housing’ normally 30%, space standards for apartments do not apply, open space and financial contributions to such things as schools or transport improvements do not apply.
It has resulted in a potential loss of more than 7,500 affordable homes, according to the study by the Local Government Association.
The loss of employment space and opportunities for start-up businesses is also a concern. This can do damage to the vitality of the city centre.
In Peterborough over a dozen such conversion schemes have been done since 2014, mostly in the city centre, with a smaller number on industrial areas and district shopping centres. There was a surge of conversions in the city centre beginning with Touthill Close, Hereward Centre and Wentworth House. Most of the apartments created are of a reasonable size and some are spacious, but more recent schemes contain very small flats in convoluted internal layouts.
A count of permitted and other conversion schemes reveal that about 900 flats have been consented in the city centre alone. No ‘new build’ flats have been built in the city centre in the same time, apart from those at Fletton Quays.
The office space lost, most of which was relatively modern, could amount to about 4,000 jobs. No new offices have been built in the city centre for many years. The most recent one is Bayard Place which is, itself, to be converted to flats!
Perhaps all that will be left will be the ghosts of town planners and architects, income tax inspectors and council housing officers will be felt drifting wistfully through the corridors of the new apartments and bedsitters?
Last weekend was the annual Heritage Festival, organised by Vivacity and very good it was too!
The Civic Society stall was moved to St John’s Square as part of something called Heritage Street (a sort of local interest Sesame Street). The move was a two-edged sword (pardon the Heritage Festival pun) since our stall was further way from the main action than in previous years, but nevertheless in a sheltered location. Between the showers, we received a goodly number of visitors.
The people who stopped and spoke to us clearly have the interests of Peterborough at heart. True, some people bemoan the changes that have happened to the city over the past 50 years, but there are also people who realise that change is inevitable. I am reliably informed that the re-enactors themselves, many of whom come to Peterborough from all over the country, appreciate the fact that the festival is not just attended by the white middle-class heritage freaks, but by a cross-section of the general population, all of whom are keen to learn more about basic history, as well as the city in which they now reside.
In short Viva Peterborough!