By Daniel Hunter

Plans to turn offices into homes and remove protection on London’s river wharves could have a serious impact on London’s future economic growth, the Assembly has warned the Government.

The London Assembly’s Planning Committee has written to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government urging him to reconsider plans to allow offices - large and small - to be converted into residential use without the need for planning permission.

It warns this could have a serious impact on the capital’s economic recovery and create a shortage of business premises in future years. Experts have told the Committee the plans could result in the loss of a quarter of office space in central London and premises all over London, particularly those which start-ups and small to medium sized businesses (SMEs) rely on. But the planning system already gives local authorities the tools to deal with any local oversupply of offices.

The Committee also raises concerns about quality and affordability of the housing resulting from office conversions and whether there will be the necessary infrastructure to support new homes. It calls on the Government to reconsider the plans or, if the proposals do continue, to exempt London as an exceptional case.

The Committee has also sent a separate letter to the Secretary of State drawing his attention to its concerns over Mayoral plans to remove protection from some of London’s remaining river wharves. The Committee has suggested the Mayor go back to the drawing board because he has underestimated the future role of river transport, the amount of commercial and industrial waste and its recycling potential in an economy increasingly focused on resource-efficiency.

The Committee warns that if the nine affected wharves are lost, they will be gone forever. This limits London’s potential to exploit the emerging secondary materials economy and the source of jobs it might offer in future.

“We are very concerned that these proposals could jeopardise London’s future economic growth," Nicky Gavron AM, Chair of the Planning Committee, said.

"The relatively low land value of wharves puts these sites under immense pressure to be redeveloped as riverside flats. But, if these sites are snapped up by developers, that rules out the option of transporting waste by river in coming years and so reduces our potential to tap into the emerging green economy. Once gone, they are gone forever, and the Thames will slowly cease being a working river.

“London may have spare office space, but turning business premises into homes is not the answer. The Committee heard worrying evidence about the potential impact on jobs and small businesses and there is a real danger these plans could do more harm than good. This is an unnecessary and ill-thought through idea which will lead to serious unintended consequences.

”The Government needs to reconsider these proposals because it is vital that any decisions made today are in London’s best long-term interests and don’t harm the capital’s potential jobs and growth.”

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