New rules to protect city's offices from conversion to housing

A sixth floor apartment with a balcony is for sale for £750,000 at Westlegate Tower in Norwich. Pic:

Westlegate Tower in Norwich, an example of an office space turned into homes.

New rules to protect the amount of office space in the centre of Norwich by making it harder to convert commercial buildings into housing are set to be introduced.

Councillors are expected to bring in changes to the planning process, amid concerns the city is losing too many business premises to homes.

Despite the rise in the numbers of people working from home since the start of the pandemic, Norwich City Council fears that a loss of office space is weakening the centre’s role as an economic hub.

The city has lost around 30% of its office stock since a change to planning rules in 2013 which made it easier for commercial properties to become housing.

City Hall effectively wants to reverse some of those changes, and following a consultation period earlier this year the council is expected to move forward with its new policy at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

Unless the secretary of state objects, the new rules will take effect from July 2022.

Under the current system, developers wanting to change offices into flats do not need formal planning permission.

Although they require ‘prior approval’ for conversion, the only issues the council can consider include the impact on transport, contamination, flooding and noise from neighbours.

This limits reasons for the council to reject schemes and prevents it considering issues such as protecting employment land or insisting on affordable housing.

Most Read

Under the proposed change - known as an Article 4 Direction - full planning permission would be required to change offices into housing in the city centre. It would not prevent conversions, but gives the council more control over them.

Councillor Mike Stonard, cabinet member for sustainable and inclusive growth said: “It’s important to the city that we can progress with the Article 4 Direction to help Norwich’s economy thrive and enable our residents and businesses to flourish in an office environment.

“People want to be able to return to the office, if only for part of the week, and we as a council need to make sure there is space available for them.”

A review of office accommodation in Norwich, commissioned by the city council, found the market was in a ‘fragile and vulnerable’ condition partly due to the significant loss of offices in the last eight years.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter