By Daniel Hunter

Proposals to make it easier to change business premises of all size into housing could damage London’s economic recovery, the London Assembly Planning Committee heard.

At a meeting to discuss the Government’s plans to diminish protection currently given to employment uses, guests representing the property and planning industries warned moves to deliver more homes could hamper start-up companies by depriving them of the space they need to grow.

Thriving businesses may also be forced out due to housing increasing rent. London is particularly vulnerable because the value of land for residential use in central parts of the capital is double that for office use.

Although the Government’s intention may be to ease a shortage of housing, the Committee heard that in areas like the City of London, offices might be redeveloped for new homes that are bought as investments and never actually lived in.

The large disparity in value between land for employment use and housing also places pressure on vital employment space, such as wharves. Members heard that ‘hope values’ that these facilities, vital for river freight, may be redeveloped for housing has encouraged owners to keep them vacant for years.

The Committee also heard a lack of clarity from the Government is causing uncertainty for developers and local authorities, which could stop or stall developments progressing. The Government only recently considered change of use plans and rejected them. It also has failed to clarify details of the new plan.

“Employment space is vulnerable to developers looking to make a quick buck by converting it to housing. It’s not as though London doesn’t have plenty of space for houses — it doesn’t need to sacrifice employment space. Doing so threatens the businesses and jobs London needs to grow," Nicky Gavron AM, Chair of the London Assembly Planning Committee, said.

“The Government needs to make its intentions clear to provide certainty to developers. It also needs to make sure its policies don’t threaten employment land with moves for some short-term economic gain at the expense of long-term employment.”

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