Sir Malcolm Rifkind MP: Concerns over converting offices to housing

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Tue May 28 13:00:08 BST 2013

Sir Malcolm Rifkind MP: Concerns over converting offices to housing
 Apr 29 2013

Kensington MP Sir Malcolm Rifkind provides this week's political column.

One of the Government's proposals to reform the planning system is to allow the conversion of offices into residential property without needing a planning application. 

I understand the rationale from a national perspective of encouraging the conversion of vacant commercial property into residential property, but the anomalous nature of the housing market in Kensington means that it would have devastating consequences for the area. 

The Government has accepted that some exemptions will be necessary. They will be granted where local authorities are able to demonstrate `the substantial adverse economic consequences at the local authority level which are not offset by the positive benefits the new rights would bring.' 

Both the Kensington Society and the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea have done a magnificent job in highlighting the extraordinary discrepancies in value between residential and commercial property in the area, and the damaging incentives this would give to commercial landlords.

Whereas office properties in the Royal Borough range in value between £350 and £750 per square foot, residential property values range in value between £750 and £2,500. Converting to residential property is considered to be economically compelling where residential values are 40 per cent to 55 per cent greater than existing office values, but case studies in different parts of the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea show a percentage increase in value of between 93 per cent and 185 per cent 

The new changes would therefore have the effect of driving many perfectly viable businesses out of the area. 

It is imperative that we protect the businesses that power the local economy and provide the jobs and services necessary to sustain a healthy community. 

I have worked with the Kensington Society and the Royal Borough to put these points to Nick Boles, the Minister for Planning, and I am becoming more hopeful that the Government will recognise what is a compelling case to exempt the Royal Borough from these proposals.

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