Jobs fear as scale of office to homes conversions in Welwyn Hatfield revealed
PUBLISHED: 10:55 18 February 2015 | UPDATED: 10:55 18 February 2015
More than 35,000 square metres of office space looks set to be turned into flats across Welwyn Hatfield - prompting warnings that room for 3,500 jobs has been lost.
Figures released to the WHT reveal that since a change to planning law 18 months ago, which means developers do not need planning permission to change disused office space into homes, 35,105 square metres has been affected.
The disused space could be turned into 358 homes.
In 19 cases, Welwyn Hatfield Council has ruled planning permission is not required.
This includes the former Xerox site in Broadwater Road, which could become 133 flats, following a ruling last week.
Opposition leaders have hit out at the figures, claiming workers will be driven out of the borough, but MP Grant Shapps said legislation is tackling a housing shortage.
Councillor Malcolm Cowan, Lib Dem, told the WHT: “Of course many of these might have been granted permission, but that permission would have been accompanied by checking there was adequate parking, amenity space for families, and some contribution towards school places and infrastructure.
“Already planners are talking about having to replace this employment land, perhaps in the Green Belt.
“In a town built on the principle of keeping jobs and homes apart, this is a worrying trend that in a few years could wipe out much of our office space.
“Homes are usually worth more than offices, so the incentive to keep converting is there, particularly when there are minimal checks or restrictions.
“I hope that now the evidence is piling up, Grant Shapps will see that the effects on Welwyn Hatfield demand a change in policy.”
And Councillor Kieran Thorpe, who leads the opposition Labour group at Welwyn Hatfield Council, also hit out.
He said: “Turning over employment land into residential may go someway to relieving housing shortages, but as has been mentioned these areas are often not ideal locations for people to live in.
“If we keep giving employment land over to housing, where are the residents of Welwyn Hatfield, both current and future, going to work?
“Anyone driving out of the borough towards St Albans or Stevenage in rush hour will know the answer only too well.”