The Government introduced a 3-year permitted development right in Spring 2013 that allows landlords to make conversions from office to residential without permission from Councils (only prior approval in respect of transport and highways, contamination and flooding risks needs to be sought through the planning process). It was designed and intended to allow empty office space to be turned into homes without the red tape thereby boosting the creation of new homes. Unfortunately it is mainly being used in locations that deliver the highest returns on investment for landlords, despite the high demand for office space. So in town centres like Beckenham where housing prices/rents are soaring ahead of office space, local businesses are being pushed out. Since 2013 the following offices have, or are, in the process of changing from office to residential:
- Above 30 High Street from office space to 15 x studio flats
- Above 86-90 High Street from office space to 2 x one bed flats
- Above 130 High Street from office space to 2 self-contained flats
- Above 145-151 High Street from office space to 2 x studio flats and 1 x one bedroom flat
- Above 173a High Street from office space to 1 x 2 bedroom flat
- Above 177a High Street from office space to 1 x 1 bedroom flat
- Above 179a High Street from office space to 2 x 2 bedroom flats
- Above 242 High Street from office space to 2 x 1 bedroom flats
- Duncan House, Burnhill Road from office space to 1 x 1 bedroom flat and 9 x 2 bedroom flats
- Above 24 High Street from office space to 1 x 2 bedroom and 1 x 1 bedroom flats
- Marqueen House, 215 High Street, application in currently to change from office space to 18 x 1 bedroom flats
- Ironstone House, 205-213 High Street, application in currently to change from office space to 18 x 1 bedroom flats
- Provident House 6-20 Burrell Row, application in currently to change from office space to 18 x 1 and 2 x 2 bedroom flats
In Beckenham we are now at the point where offices that are fully occupied by small and medium-size businesses, such as Marqueen, Ironstone and Provident House, are being emptied out to be turned into residential. Often these new flats are small, the developments too dense, some even becoming Houses of Multiple Occupation. If all the offices go in Beckenham it will devastate the day-time economy on the High Street. Take out the workers and we will see a change in the mix of shops, and we are fearful more independent shops will be lost, the only replacements to be chains and charity shops, changing the vibrancy of our town centre.
The government want to make this permitted right permanent. We have asked our MP Bob Stewart to lobby for this permitted right to be scrapped and to reinstate Council approval for such conversions. Local people and Councils can then have a say in whether Beckenham needs office space more than flats. You can also help by contacting your local MP: Bob Stewart (Beckenham and West Wickham) and Jim Dowd (Elmers End, Clock House, Cator Park).
To find out more about this issue you can read the Association of Town Centre Management’s Policy Position Paper HERE.