One quarter of London office space at risk under new rules

A QUARTER of central London’s office space could be converted into housing if the government pushed ahead with proposals to relax planning laws, a top official claimed yesterday.

John Lett, principle planner at the Greater London Authority, told a London Assembly committee that without exemptions, 4m square metres of offices could be lost under coalition plans to relax restrictions on converting workspace to residential use.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson has already launched a campaign to exclude central London areas such as the West End, South Bank, and some areas around Canary Wharf from the rule change in order to preserve their commercial focus. The City of London is also lobbying for the square mile to be excluded, as have 29 of the 32 boroughs.

Nicky Gavron, chair of the London Assembly’s planning committee, said: “There are better ways of getting new housing supply than at the expense of small businesses and much needed jobs. London may have surplus office space, but there seems a real danger that these government plans could be using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.”

Meanwhile a separate report from the Assembly says there are now 3,400 empty shops on the capital’s high streets, an increase of five per cent in two years.

It proposes limits on the number of pawnbrokers and betting shops allowed on each high street, in addition to improved support to renegotiate rents and business rates.