Welwyn Hatfield to look at protecting conversions of shops to residential

PUBLISHED: 14:58 22 July 2020 | UPDATED: 11:45 28 July 2020

The former Xerox headquarters, now known as Times Square, is one example of

The former Xerox headquarters, now known as Times Square, is one example of "prime office space" lost to residential development in recent years.


After the government said it will allow developers to knock down shops and convert them to residential units without seeking full planning permission, Welwyn Hatfield will look at how to hold back the tide.

On Monday, Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council unanimously agreed to look at enacting more Article 4 directions, which protect against permitted development, if there is a material risk or evidence of these areas being significantly adversely impacted.

Lib Dem leader Cllr Malcolm Cowan proposed the motion to full council, explaining: “I always flinch when I see a new type of exemption for planning processes.

“We and other Herts councils have lost thousands of square metres of employment use.”

Permitted development rights have already allowed office buildings to be converted into residential use without planning permission and created 305 homes in Welwyn Hatfield since 2015, according to a new report.

The research carried out by the University of London for the Local Government Ministry found that these office to home conversions create mostly “worse quality residential environments than planning permission conversions” and may have affected the health, wellbeing and quality of life for renters in the UK.

But Cllr Cowan acknowledged that many of the spaces, in Welwyn Garden City’s Town Centre and around Woodhall are unlikely to be affected as they are conservation areas.

Labour’s Cllr Glyn Hayes also amended the proposal to require the head of planning to create a report assessing future protections.

Executive member for planning Stephen Boulton, a Conservative, also leant his support and signalled that the council is planning more Article 4 directions but pointed out that the secretary of state for housing and local government Robert Jenrick can oppose them.

Mr Jenrick announced this week (July 21) that the government plans from September to allow commercial units – except pubs, libraries, village shops and other buildings essential to communities – to be converted to homes without seeking local government approval.

He said: “These changes will help transform boarded up, unused buildings safely into high quality homes at the heart of their communities. It will mean that families can add up to 2 storeys to their home, providing much needed additional space for children or elderly relatives as their household grows.”

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