An ‘eleventh-hour intervention’ by the Tory Planning Minister-led Government has torpedoed an attempt by Labour-run Islington Council to protect jobs and affordable homes.
Islington Labour has been leading the charge against a developers’ free-for-all in the borough’s office space following a change the government introduced in May 2013. The change allows developers to convert offices into flats without any planning permission – meaning the council has been powerless to protect jobs or to demand affordable housing.
To protect valuable business space from being lost as developers make a quick-buck from high house prices, Islington Council used a local planning order which would have meant conversions once again required planning permission from 15th July 2014.
But just two days before Islington Labour’s protective measures were due to come into effect, Tory Planning Minister Nick Boles MP quashed the plans – using incorrect figures in his justification for doing so. Mr Boles has now been moved from his job in the Government, but he used his last few days to fire a very unwelcome parting shot at Islington.
Islington Labour’s Executive Member for Housing and Development, Cllr James Murray, said: "I'm very frustrated by the former Tory Planning Minister's decision to stop us doing what's right for Islington.
"We're already seeing small businesses and charities being evicted from offices to make way for bedsits. People in Islington are losing out on jobs, affordable housing, and any community benefit.
"I'm also very disappointed that the Minister waited until the eleventh hour to overturn our decision, refused to accept a compromise we offered, and in his reasoning got his figures wrong. Islington has consistently greatly exceeded its housing targets and is set to continue to do so."
Developers have already registered 68 office buildings in Islington for conversion to residential under the new rules, with a further 11 in the pipeline. The total loss of office space is around 45,000 square metres - which equates to around 3,000 jobs. In some cases, small businesses and charities have been evicted.
Of the homes created in these spaces, Islington Council estimates that 2 out of every 3 is a one-bedroom unit or a bedsit. No affordable housing has been created - despite the potential to deliver around 350 affordable homes.
Cllr Murray added: "In Islington we already have successful plans for building good quality, affordable housing. But the Government's changes are undermining what we're trying to do by allowing developers to bypass these plans."