Office to flat conversions will become harder for developers in Welwyn Hatfield

The former Xerox headquarters, now known as Times Square, is one example of office space lost to res

The former Xerox headquarters, now known as Times Square, is one example of office space lost to residential development in recent years. Picture: Kevin Lines - Credit: Archant

Welwyn Hatfield will push ahead with moves to make it harder for developers to turn offices into flats.

Since 2013, developers which have been allowed to convert office space into residential properties without the need for planning permission – through ‘permitted development’ – have caused 30,000 sqm of office space in the borough to be converted to housing.

A further 10,020 sqm is also earmarked for further development and there have been concerns that the loss of office space could have a negative impact on the economic growth of the area and mean developers do not have to contributed to infrastructure locally.

But now Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council is set to implement an Article 4 Direction, which prevents permitted development being used in this way in specified areas, at WGC employment area, Hatfield Business Park, the Beaconsfield and Great North Road areas in Hatfield and Sopers Road employment area in Cuffley.

Presenting the report to the cabinet last Wednesday, executive member for environment and planning Cllr Stephen Boulton said: “The gains in terms of additional housing units are not necessarily sufficient to outweigh the harm to the local economy.”

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Out of 21 responses to a public consultation, most were supportive of an Article 4 as they felt there was a need for employment space but the three against suggested that the conversion of office space reduced pressure to develop the Green Belt.

Backing the move at the cabinet meeting, executive member for leisure, culture and communications Cllr Terry Mitchinson said: “WGC especially – but also Hatfield – was based on the idea of living and working in the same area.

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“We are not talking about stopping it completely, we are just saying that it has to go through the proper level of scrutiny and that means going through a proper planning process.

And executive member for governance, public health and climate change Cllr Fiona Thompson said it was a “sensible approach” – stressing that it was not about removing all planning but just the right to develop under permitted development.

“There is still the opportunity for redevelopment but in a more measured way, which given the scale of the conversions that have happened to date is really important for the borough,” she said.

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