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Richmond expresses "extreme concern" at government planning reform proposals after DCLG modifies office-to-residential exemption direction

Richmond-upon-Thames Council is preparing a response to the UK government's technical consultation on planning, indicating that it is "likely to express extreme concern about some of the new proposals". 22 Aug 2014

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) launched a consultation last month into planning reforms, outlining proposals for a wide range of changes aimed at simplifying and speeding up the planning process. In a statement today, the Council said that it was considering its response to the proposals and intended to lobby the government on several proposals.

The Council considers that proposed new rights to allow buildings currently used as warehouses, casinos, and amusement arcades to be converted into homes, without the need for planning permission from local authorities, "could result in the loss of valuable space for businesses and employment" and "lead to the creation of poor quality housing ... without contributing to education and health needs that will be generated".

The Council said it intends to lobby against: rights to convert shops and banks to cafes, restaurants or assembly and leisure uses, which it said "could threaten the viability of our high streets"; and against the broadening of the definition of shop use to encompass some financial and professional services uses, which it feared could "lead to a permanent loss of valuable shops and businesses".

The Council also intends to resist government plans to make permanent rights introduced in May 2013 allowing office space to be converted to homes without the need for planning permission for local authorities. The Council made an 'Article 4 direction' in November 2013 to remove these permitted development rights in twelve areas of the borough and has estimated that it is "set to lose up to 20% of its office space to residential" due to the rights.

According to a report in Planning Magazine, the DCLG has now responded to the Council's request, asking that the direction be modified to exclude from the exemption any office premises that have already secured planning approval prior to the direction coming into force on 30 November.  

In its statement today, the Council said that making the rights permanent "is likely to displace even more local firms and lead to further losses of valuable employment space and jobs in the borough".

"Government reforms are completely at odds with what local communities want", said councillor Pamela Fleming, the Council's cabinet member for the environment. "Although appearing 'pro business', the reforms are the exact opposite. Government says this will give people a greater say over planning decisions that affect their local area. It is clear that the proposals will be very detrimental to our businesses and shops."

"This will permanently damage the vitality and viability of our high streets," continued Fleming. "It will lead to further losses of valuable employment space, and with it, jobs that support the local economy. The reforms remove more of our ability to balance the community."

The government's technical consultation on planning is open until 26 September.

The Council's modified Article 4 direction will come into force on 30 November.