Bid to stop Norwich offices becoming homes put on ice amid compensation fears

Westlegate Tower is an example of Norwich city centre offices which were turned into homes. Picture:

Westlegate Tower is an example of Norwich city centre offices which were turned into homes. Picture: Jamie Honeywood - Credit: Archant

A move which could have stopped so many offices in Norwich city centre being turned into homes has been put on ice.

Norwich city councillor Kevin Maguire. Pic: Archant Library.

Norwich city councillor Kevin Maguire. Pic: Archant Library. - Credit: Submitted

Norwich City Council, fearing 30pc of the city’s office space has been lost since 2013, wanted to get new powers to have more say over them being turned into housing.

At the moment, developers wanting to change offices into flats do not need formal planning permission. They only need prior approval for conversion.

That limits the reasons for councils to reject changes to the impact on transport, contamination, flooding and noise from neighbours. So the council cannot consider issues such as protecting employment land or insist on affordable housing.

To give themselves extra control, councillors wanted to agree to an Article 4 direction, taking away the permitted right to convert offices into flats, mainly within the inner ring road.

The idea was that would give the council more scope for control.

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But planning officer Joy Brown told a meeting of the council’s sustainable development committee that government changes in the way developments are classified had thrown a spanner in the works.

She said the council sought advice from its solicitors at NPLaw and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and was told pushing ahead with the direction now could lead to “potentially huge” compensation claims against the authority from developers.

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She said that it was “extremely regrettable”, but the council would have to delay bringing in the Article 4 direction until 12 months after the new classifications of development come into effect.

Kevin Maguire, Labour’s cabinet member for safe and sustainable city development had previously said some office conversions to residential had not been good quality. He had said it was important the city centre maintained its vibrancy and role as an economic centre.

Despite coronavirus meaning more people are working from home, a report by Fakenham-based consultants Ramidus said offices were still needed, including for training, mentoring and corporate ethos.

They said: “These needs have not disappeared. We do not foresee a structural change in the quantum of demand for offices in Norwich city as a direct result of Covid-19.”

MORE: Former Norwich Union offices to be turned into homes

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