Concern coronavirus could trigger ‘glut’ of offices being lost in Norwich
- Credit: Archant
Fears that Norwich is losing too many offices, because of how easy it is for developers to turn them into housing, could see council bosses wield powers to stop it happening.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic leading to a shift in people working from home, officers at Norwich City Council say there will always be a demand for office accommodation in the city centre.
But they say planning rules, which mean developers wanting to change offices into flats do not need formal planning permission, risk the city having too few quality offices to attract businesses.
The rules mean developers need prior approval for conversion, but the only issues the council can consider include the impact on transport, contamination, flooding and noise from neighbours.
That limits reasons for the council to reject conversions and it cannot consider issues such as protecting employment land or insist on affordable housing.
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A report drawn up for the council by Fakenham-based consultants Ramidus said: “The Norwich office market is small and vulnerable.
“Since 2013, some 108,936 square metres of office space has secured consent for residential conversion, creating just under 1,700 flats in return for the loss of around 30pc of Norwich’s total stock of office space.
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“The very survival of the city centre office market is at risk.”
The consultants said coronavirus could bring a “glut” of property owners seeking to turn offices into homes, but they argue that people will still want to work in offices.
They say: “The office has a key social function, not to mention areas such as training, mentoring, leadership, corporate ethos and so on. 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.”
Councillors and officers want to agree to introduce an Article 4 direction, which would take away the permitted right to convert offices into flats, mainly within the inner ring road and give the council more scope for control when applications are made.
The issue was discussed at a meeting of the council’s sustainable development panel, where it was recommended to ask the council’s cabinet to consider whether to introduce the Article 4 direction.
Kevin Maguire, Labour’s cabinet member for safe and sustainable city development, said some of the conversions to residential had not been good quality and it was important the city centre maintained its vibrancy and role as an economic centre.
If the Article 4 direction is sought, it would have to go through consultation and to the secretary of state. If it goes through then it would come into effect from October next year.