By Daniel Hunter
The Mayor Boris Johnson is bidding to preserve London’s key business districts and exempt them from proposals to allow offices to be turned into homes without planning permission.
London is the beating heart of the UK economy which accounts for over a fifth of GDP. It is also a global centre for business, so the Mayor believes it is vital to maintain a stock of quality office space in key areas to ensure the city can continue to attract jobs and growth.
The city is home to a number of unique clusters of economic activity from government offices, to financial services, institutions and professional bodies, which employ millions of people, contributing billions to the national economy. The Mayor believes that if these clusters were to be broken up in piecemeal residential conversions these benefits would disappear.
The Mayor is seeking exemptions for three defined areas in central London. The first is the Central Activities Zone which includes the City of London, the South Bank and the West End. More than a third of London's jobs are within this area, and a further 280,000 jobs are expected to be created here in the next 25 years.
The Mayor is also seeking exemptions for the commercial area north of the Isle of Dogs and London's Enterprise Zones in the Royal Docks, plus the part of the City Fringe in east London which makes up the emerging "Tech City" opportunity area. This case has wide business and borough support.
The Mayor recognises the need for more housing in the capital and is not against the principle of unused office buildings being used for this. However with the very high residential values in these specific areas of London there is a very real risk that offices performing vital functions could be lost and the character of economically important neighbourhoods could significantly change to the detriment of business.
The Mayor believes the current planning system - under which office space cannot be converted into homes without local authority planning permission - has a vital role to play to in making sure the mix of uses in central London is properly considered to ensure the vibrancy and vitality of London's nationally distinctive business areas.
“London is a colossal powerhouse of jobs and growth, not only for the UK but of international significance," The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said.
"Its success depends on a rich mix of uses and the high value of residential property in central London could upset this and change the area for good. So it is absolutely vital we can plan for these key areas so we continue to attract investment and businesses, maintaining London's status as a global commercial hub."
The Mayor has also encouraged the boroughs to submit their own bids for specific business areas they feel should be protected. Most of Westminster lies within the Central Activities Zone.
Mark Field, MP for Westminster and the City of London, said: “Converting offices to homes in central London areas will only lead to expensive homes, not affordable homes, at a cost to the business community — which I think negates exactly what the Government is trying to achieve in terms of housing and growth.”
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