Flat Eric: Pickles' office-to-flats plan criticised by businesses and residents' groups (From Surrey Comet)
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Flat Eric: Pickles' office-to-flats plan criticised by businesses and residents' groups
Hundreds of people will be moving into new flats being developed “by the backdoor” as developers take advantage of a new loophole in planning laws that allow offices to be turned into homes without planning permission.
Since new laws came into effect in May, Kingston Council has seen notifications for more than 125 flats with the potential to house hundreds more people in the borough.
But neighbours do not have a say over the new influx – the brainchild of Conservative Communities Secretary Eric Pickles – which intends to ease the housing crisis with the use of empty buildings.
The council also misses out on Section 106 money that it would otherwise get from a normal planning application, which puts funds into transport, education and green spaces in the borough.
Liberal Democrat Councillor Simon James, responsible for overseeing Kingston Council’s sustainable place department, said: “There is no consultation, local people have no say, the councillors can’t do anything about it.
“Eric Pickles came in saying he believed in localism but in this case he means developers can take any action no matter what people think. He seems to say one thing and do another.”
Tony Arbour, Conservative London Assembly member for south-west London, said: “This is one thing where central government does not know best and the local council does. It is a bad idea, period.
“Many Conservative councils are taking the same line. In suburban areas such as Richmond and Kingston we want to keep employment in the borough.
“By losing offices that cuts down local employment and loses business for shops at lunchtimes and in the evenings.”
Chief executive Jerry Irving, from Kingston Chamber of Commerce, warned “we may be shooting ourselves in the foot” for the future.
He said: “We don’t want to have empty buildings in the borough, but there is a danger of not attracting businesses because we will no longer have the space to accommodate them and prices will hike up.
“We may be shooting ourselves in the foot.”
Matterhorn Capital New Malden Limited’s plans for eight-storey New Malden House are for 28 one-bedroom and 49 two-bedroom flats.
The numbers added up by the Surrey Comet do not include dozens more full planning applications for changing offices into homes, which are decided by councillors.
Blagdon Road resident Sebastian Amos said: “Everybody seems to be trying to get anything. They need to calm down on development. People need to think about what New Malden actually needs.”
Bernadette Vallely, from the Richmond Park Residents’ Association, said: “That puts an obvious strain on schools, doctors, the hospital and parking. It all has to be part of the jigsaw puzzle.”
A total of 17 local authorities including the City of London are exempt. Lambeth Council and Islington Council have become the first two local authorities to launch a judicial review to protect their spaces against the controversial new planning laws.
But Coun James said Kingston Council had not lodged an expensive judicial review, although he admitted there would be an eye on whether any of these could set a precedent to change the laws.
A spokesman from the Department for Local Communities and Local Government said: “The department introduced the office to residential change of use policy in order to bring underused offices back into effective use and provide new homes, and we will vigorously defend any legal challenge to the policy.”
The notifications so far: From Kingston Council's planning website
77 flats with 126 bedrooms on six floors of New Malden House, Blagdon Road.
Six flats in Apsley House, Wellington Crescent, New Malden.
Two flats with five bedrooms in Kingsley House, Tolworth Close, Surbiton.
13 flats with 14 bedrooms in Chichester House, 145a London Road, Kingston.
Four bedrooms in Eurolux House, 456 Ewell Road, Surbiton.
A bid for flats opposite the Guildhall in 8-10 High Street, Kingston, was later
Flats in 5 St Mary’s Road, Surbiton.
One flat at 85-87 Clarence Street, Kingston.
Oriel House, 52 Coombe Road, New Malden.
Granted: 24 flats with 28 bedrooms at 1-3 Jupiter Court, Tolworth Rise South, Surbiton.
Refused: for unauthorised use: 2 Portsmouth Road, Kingston, Ms Conacher and Mr Molaeb family moved in on March 2013.
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